Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

 
Sophomore slump.
 

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013)

 

I miss Twilight and Harry Potter. I miss Potter because of its quality and I miss Twilight because it was a phenomena I understood, even if I wasn’t its biggest fan. We’re now in a world full of Potter and Twilight pretenders where there are only a few established teen fantasy series left and of those only The Hunger Games is any good. Everything else is a faltering attempt to try and kickstart a franchise and make piles of “fuck you” money. Having rated the first one, I was quite excited to see where the series goes. Would it go darker like so many second parts before it? Turns out, no. It’ll just stop trying.

“Couldn’t find any decent quotes, but it’s no big loss.”

We rejoin Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) at Camp Half Blood, where he’s training hard to prove he’s not a “one quest wonder”. He’s again joined by pals Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) and Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and together they have to re-establish the life-saving magical barrier around the camp by finding the legendary Golden Fleece. It’s not as simple as all that though as the camp’s top warrior, the combative Clarisse (Leven Rambin), has already been sent out to find it. Percy learns he has a half brother in the form of awkward cyclops Tyson (Douglas Smith) and the four have to sneak out. Traitor Luke (Jake Abel) meanwhile has plans to reawaken Kronos, the baddest god of them all, and destroy Olympus. Well, shit. The story’s solid enough but it can’t help but feel like it’s going through the motions. The leads are pretty bland this time round and it’s hard to care about Percy or his cohorts, although Brandon T. Jackson is trying his best with the sloppy material. The only bright spot come from the adult camp, where Stanley Tucci and Anthony Head (replacing Pierce Brosnan) do good work as mentors for the heroing kids. Nathan Fillion shows up as Hermes and improves things immensely for the few minutes he’s around, even getting a laugh out of a lame self-referential Firefly gag.

The hiring of half-decent writer Marc Guggenheim to replace the hacktastic Craig TItley is good on paper, but turns out Guggenheim’s worse. The main problem with the film is the flaccid writing, with its plodabout questing, crappy jokes and boring functional lines used to dump exposition on the disinterested viewer. The first film, whilst not endlessly quotable, had some spark and had some energy to the dialogue, but this film ignores that and finds new levels of awful to plunder. I kept waiting for the interactions to become fun, but when I got to the climactic fairground scenes, I realised I was shit out of luck.  It had the same problem as Guggenheim’s Green Lantern, in which I wanted the writing to match the fun tone of the film. Dude wouldn’t know decent dialogue if it jumped up and bit him in the face. The character that personifies all this is Clarisse, who is just a cartoon sketch of an arrogant rival who has to take a hackneyed journey of personality and evolve into a reluctant ally. Neither mode is convincing and I found myself wondering if the character in the book is just as one-dimensional. Leven Rambin actually does a good job as her, but she needed decent lines and a clear arc to back up her performance.

The film starts off well enough with a fun training setpiece and an attack on the camp by a raging mechanical bull, but it soon unravels into a boring quest. After defending the first one from the Potter comparisons and insisting that it was better than a crappy rip-off, Sea of Monsters doesn’t leave me a leg to stand on by being hugely derivative to the point of distraction. There’s a scene where the gang hail a magical taxi that’s so similar to the Knight Bus sequence from Prisoner of Azkaban, I started to wonder if they were even trying at all and how soon Warner’s lawyers would be on the phone. A lot of the action involves unconvincingly rolling around backed by a greenscreen as as such ends up being pretty boring.The film ends with an uninspired showdown at an abandoned theme park and it was hard to shake the feeling that I’d seen it all before. During said scene, there’s a bit where the process of bringing Kronos back is almost complete. Instead of yanking the Golden Fleece off the ark (which looks suspiciously like the Ark of the Covenant), Percy chooses to patch things up with Tyson, hugging him right next to the fucking ark, still pissing golden magic into the sky. It’s just lazy. Reunions can happen later and nobody would choose to do it right then and there when there’s a chance to stop an ancient evil from coming back. I’ve said it before, but the dismissive argument that it’s “just a kids’ movie” doesn’t hold water. It doesn’t matter what age your audience is, they deserve a decent story in exchange for handing over their money. They held up their end of the bargain.

The one decent thing are the effects, with some decent CGI bringing some mythical creatures to life. The Hippocampus is a highlight as is the aforementioned metal bull. However, good effects do not make up for a crappy story and you’re left with a hollow shell of a film. I’m annoyed because the first film showed so much promise and had so much potential. I was eager to see more of the modern takes on Greek mythology, but was left wanting. The elements are still there, like the Golden Fleece, but they’re not done with the same panache as before. The direction by the fantastically named Thor Freundenthal is good enough, but the acting and writing need a real kick up the arse. If Sea of Monsters gets a sequel (although current box office numbers would suggest it won’t) I would start there as a priority. Maybe concentrate on the basics first Guggers, before you go setting up a sequel that probably won’t see the light of day.

“Fridge freezer for sale. Broken door and missing shelves, otherwise fine. £500 ONO”

I feel really let down by Sea of Monsters. It’s not completely terrible, but it doesn’t do enough to mark itself out from the slew of other teen fantasy films out there and gets lost in the shuffle. It’ll play well to its undemanding target audience, but to anyone else it’s a slog. Bah. I think the series author put it best. when informed that there’s a zombie character named after him in the film:

Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief

 
Dawson’s Greek
 

 Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief (2010)

 

Whenever I mention the Percy Jackson series to anyone over 15, I’m usually greeted with gormless blank stares or harsh judgement about the fact I want to talk about an apparently inconsequential Harry Potter rip-off.  Having not read the books, I can’t attest to how faithful the film is (although a leisurely browse through pages and pages of reviews titled things like “Did they even READ the fucking book?!” would suggest the answer) so I’m only going on what the film brings to the table.

“Give me the bolt, lightning thief.”

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (known as the streamlined Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief here in good ol’ Blighty) is shockingly about a kid named Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman), a seemingly average teen who finds out he’s the son of legendary Greek god Poseidon (Kevin McKidd). He’s whisked off to Camp Half Blood, a training ground for other demigods, by his pal Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and discovers that he is blamed for stealing Zeus’ (Sean Bean) bolt, something which will start a war amongst the gods. Under the guidance of Mr. Brunner (Pierce Brosnan) and with the help of the kick-ass Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), Percy embarks on a quest to prove his innocence and rescue his mother (Catherine Keener) from the clutches of Hades (Steve Coogan). Truth be told, Percy Jackson doesn’t really stray too far from the standard kid fantasy plot. Teen finds out he’s special, learns to harness that power, saves the world and promotes the hell out of the originating book series. Some of  the Potter comparisons do hold water, but I’ll get back to those in a minute. Logan Lerman is decent as Percy. He’s a bog-standard, good-looking lead and that’s fine for this sort of thing. Brandon T. Jackson impresses as the affable Satyr Grover and gets some choice lines. Alexandra Daddario is good too, but is mostly used as a love interest puppet rather that an actual human being (or demigod, whatever.) There’s some genius bits of casting. If you ever wanted to see a bearded Pierce Brosnan as a centaur, this is the film to hunt down. The burning question for me is how the production company got hold of my teenage sketchbook. Steve Coogan as a goth rock dad version of Hades is brilliant too. He’s not in it much though, but I feel any more screentime would have given him the ability to completely walk away with the film tucked under one arm. Uma Thurman also gets to ham things up as Medusa and Rosario Dawson is great in the limited role of Persephone.

So, back to all that “Boy Who Lived rip-off” shit.  It is true that Jeremy Paxman and the Frightening Queef shares some DNA with the boy wizard. Certainly, the very reason it was made was to give Fox a stab at the supernatural teen adventure franchise market. Christ, they even brought in Chris Columbus, director of the first two Potters to helm it. Thing is, as much as I love it, Potter wasn’t exactly 100% totally original to begin with. Take any ’80s kid fantasy film and shake it down to its bare bones and you’ll find the same thread that runs through Potter and Percy Jackson. To dismiss it as a simple rip-off is to do the film a disservice. It’s got much more going for it than a simple cashgrab. It plays with some decent ideas and contains some neat little twists on the familiar Greek myths. For instance, if you’re up on your myths, you’ll know that the gods were a randy lot of bastards who couldn’t keep in in their armoured pants. They would often visit Earth and impregnate mortals before buggering off back to Olympus, presumably out of the reach of any child payment responsibilities.  As such nearly all the campers at Camp Half Blood have absentee parents. As Hermes progeny Luke puts it: “Guess we all got daddy issues, huh?”

One of the highlights of the film for me was a scene at “Aunty Em’s Garden Emporium”, a dilapidated garden centre filled with suspiciously realistic stone statues. It manages to be creepy and fun in equal measures. It’s definitely better than the CGI overkill Medusa fight in the craptacular Clash of the Titans reheat, which also came out in 2010. Whilst the “whorish product placement” klaxon can be justifiably be sounded, I loved the neat little twist of Percy fighting Medusa via the reflection off the back of his iPod, rather than the customary mirrored shield. I’d be screwed in the same situation, the back of mine is scuffed to fuck. There’s also a fun scene in Vegas where our trio fully sample what casino life has to offer. It’s a nice spin on the Lotus-eaters of legend.

The film does have its problems. The screenplay and writing are rather perfunctory and aren’t anything to write home about, Then again, what would you expect from the writer of such classics as the live action Scooby-Doo, See Spot Run and Cheaper By The Dozen? It doesn’t really take any time to build palpable world and just shoves our main three heroes from one scene to the next with barely any time to develop.  Just because it’s a kids’ movie doesn’t mean you can’t flesh out your leads a bit.

“Be prepared. Everything is about to change, Percy.”

So, Percy Jackson. I like it very much. I’ve got a soft spot for Greek mythology anyway and as far as I can see, the film takes some of the classic stories and repackages them in an accessible, entertaining way. It’s not groundbreaking and certainly not essential viewing, but it’s an enjoyable film that doesn’t deserve the dismissive hand waves given to it by the majority of the critical sector.  Sea of Monsters next.