Review: Percy Jackson – Sea of Monsters (2013)

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Directed by – Thor Freudenthal
Written by – Marc Guggenheim
Based on The Sea of Monsters by Rick Riordan
Starring – Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Douglas Smith, Leven Rambin, Brandon T. Jackson, Jake Abel, Stanley Tucci & Anthony Head

Well, in light of my rant yesterday, I’m pleasantly surprised to be able to inform you that Sea of Monsters – part two of the Percy Jackson saga – is better than its predecessor, though that still doesn’t mean that it’s any good.

What we have here, it seems, is a series that doesn’t know what it wants to be. The Potter-esque nature of the whole enterprise is still grating, though under the directorship of Thor Freudenthal – who, with a name like that, was pretty much born to make these films – an attempt is made, however small, unsuccessful and uninspired, to forge a unique identity. For just over 100 minutes the film rumbles along, inoffensively and predictably, as it ticks off each box on the “how to make a children’s fantasy film” checklist, occasionally threatening to offer something new but then meekly backing down and fading into mediocrity and obscurity once again. It’s a shame in a sense because, unlike with the first film, the simple plot offers the potential for a generic but enjoyable romp yet, with the exception of a few moments of madness, the film’s adventurous side is never properly realised.

The problem is that the film – despite being an improvement on what went before – feels cheaper and less grand. The absence of the previous film’s famous stars is felt quite strongly and the film suffers from the fact that it is lacking all the warmth and energy that you might expect from a Greek mythology inspired fantasy. It’s not so much boring as it is disconnected. There’s a deficit of excitement, even in the action sequences, which results in a film that builds up to an epic conclusion that simply isn’t coming. We hear so much about the threat, the danger and the potential for World destruction yet we never see it or feel it. The villains are underdeveloped and dispatched much too easily and every problem has a simple solution, which makes it all but impossible for the audience to embrace the apparent peril of the thing.

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As a result, the series still feels incredibly childish. The basic plot – which is terribly-established in the first ten minutes or so – is bad enough but once we get into the action there is a serious lack of drama and tension. For a film called Sea of Monsters you’d at least expect there to be lots of creatures for our heroes to do battle with but all we get is a massive sea-creature (that is easily defeated), a blind Cyclops who lives in an amusement park and a vengeful God in a box in a rip-off of Raiders of the Lost Ark that is almost as blatant as this. I waited, patiently and attentively, for some serious shit to go down but it never did. Battles are fought, people are killed and villains are vanquished but it’s all very stodgy and uninspiring. Not once was I nervous or excited about what might happen because the characters are dull and the action is bland.

Furthermore, the attempts to forge an identity and to give the film a bit of a soul are seriously unappealing. Funnily enough the performances are a bit more engaging and Lerman (The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 3.10 to Yuma), Daddario (Hall Pass, Texas Chainsaw 3D) and Jackson (Fast & Furious, Tropic Thunder) at least seem to care about the material this time around, but their characters are so tedious and insipid that it’s difficult for the audience to give a shit about any of them. The new additions are equally uninteresting, so it is therefore impossible to root for and get behind them. All of the characters still talk pseudo-philosophical mumbo-jumbo, the attempts at humour are still lame (the film tries so hard to be funny) and cringe-worthy, and the central conceit – that the children of Greek Gods are protecting the World – still doesn’t work in this self-aware, overtly contemporary setting.

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Unlike the first film, however, Sea of Monsters doesn’t take itself too seriously. It knows what it is and tries to make it work as best as it can. The script is cheap and lazy, the quest is uninspiring and the visuals are pretty flaky but there’s an appeal to a certain type of audience that is quite solid. The plot is terrible and the film relies on the audience’s knowledge of recognisable tropes (such as prophecies, fate and the heroic journey) far too much but it might at least appeal to a young child or family. Now that the basic scenario has been established, the series no longer has to take forever explaining Percy’s background so more time is devoted to the adventure side of things. For me the adventure is dull but some people out there might like it and hey, at least we’re spared the ceaseless exposition that the first film offered. Nothing about the film was particularly exciting but at least it didn’t leave me feeling jaded.

Sea of Monsters follows the same beats of the previous film but it’s nowhere near as bad. It isn’t a film I’ll ever watch again and it doesn’t make me want to watch the next instalment but it’s harmless, passable and relatively pleasing. I think part of the reason I’m being so kind is that my expectations were through the floor after rewatching the first film and, even though it isn’t my kind of film in any way, it at least exceeded them. I guess that’s a positive at least…

Oh well, at least Logan Lerman is still pretty.


Review also posted on Letterboxd