– Summary –
Director : Thor Freudenthal
Year Of Release : 2013
Principal Cast : Logan Lerman, Brandon T Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Leven Rambin, Jake Abel, Stanley Tucci, Nathan Fillion, Douglas Phillips, Anthony Head, Robert Maillet, Paloma Kwaitowski, Grey Damon.
Approx Running Time : 106 Minutes
Synopsis: Percy, son of Poseidon, must track down the mythical Golden Fleece in order to resurrect a dying tree which protect their camp.
What we think : Middling, tension-free franchise entry is as confusing and convoluted as it can be, lashed with an understated inability to adequately bring the novel to life, sinks to the bottom and never resurfaces. The cast all gamely do their best, and director Freudenthal gives the effects-heavy narrative some nice work, but the impact is minimal and the entertainment factor is equally bereft of weight.
Modern Greek Hit-and-Myth-ology.
Back in 2010, the first film in the Percy Jackson franchise, The Lightning Thief, snagged a blistering 5 star review from me. That’s five out of ten, folks. No, it didn’t exactly set my world on fire, but I guess somebody somewhere enjoyed it enough for it to make enough money to prompt 20th Century Fox into making a sequel, based on Rick Riordan’s novel of the same name. Sea Of Monsters, which once again pits our hero Percy Jackson against a smorgasbord of Greek mythological figures, tries to up the ante in action and extravagance, a filler-franchise for the Harry Potter crowd still lamenting the conclusion of the boy wizard’s cinematic adventures. However, Percy Jackson is no Harry Potter, Annabeth is no Hermione, and new character Tyson, a cyclops everyone hates, is no Ron Weasley. While the Harry Potter parallels run merely skin deep, you get the sense that the film-makers thought otherwise, and try desperately to give this film a sense of epic weight that it can’t quite muster. The Percy Jackson franchise might be lite-weight, but at least it goes in swinging.
Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman), his demi-god friend Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) and satyr Grover (Brandon T Jackson) are happily enjoying their time at God Camp, run by Mr D (Stanley Tucci) and Chiron (Anthony Head), until a massive robotic bull, sent by Luke Castellan (Jake Abell) to destroy the enormous tree which projects a barrier that protects the camp. Although demi-god daughter of Ares, Clarisse (Leven Rambin) and another satyr are sent on the quest to locate and return the mythical Golden Fleece, which can cure any person or thing, Percy and his friends feel compelled to go on a quest of their own. They are joined by recent camp attendee, and Percy’s half-bother, the cyclops Tyson (Douglas Smith), and face off against a plethora of monsters and demons in order to find the Fleece and save their camp. Yup, worst synopsis ever.
There are two things working against Sea Of Monsters that prevent it reaching its full potential. The first is that you need to have seen the original film in order to really get what’s going on. The second is that you probably need to read the book on which this film is based, in order to… well, get what’s going on. That’s two enormous strikes against this already second-rate franchise film, and it can’t recover. Sure, it’s all glitter and fun, lathered in CG and a kid-centric quest storyline that teeters on being entertaining, but the half-cooked characters and faux-epic attempts to shoehorn Greek Myth into modern day don’t jibe like they need to. Although the film runs some 100+ minutes, you get the sense that it needed to be longer in order to fully flesh out the character interactions and underlying interpersonal arcs, but the hack-and-slash cobbling of the book’s lengthier work into a cut-and-paste job on-screen mitigates any empathy, emotional attachment or tension the story might try and engender.
The fact that the film leaps right into itself, without so much as any reprise of the previous film to set it up, re-establish characters, or provide an audience with parameters for what’s about to occur, is probably the most hardest thing this film has to overcome. The vast array of competing characters, together with the pseudo-mythical background they all inhabit, are not as compelling as the film-makers tried to make them, thanks to a forgettable script and a deference to spectacle over development. There’s lip-surface development between Percy and his half-brother Tyson, and Annabeth’s ingrained hatred of cyclopes, but otherwise the film spends most of its bodily fluid on the cool looking action sequences and CG-heavy monsters. This skimming the surface leaves the film hobbled by mediocrity, unable to generate serious tension through whatever perils, pitfalls and tragedies may befall them. It robs the film of energy, and as much as I’m a fan of pretty lights and cool CG, there’s nothing under the surface to stir the intellect, other than watching these golden age Greek heroes reborn as hip-talkin’ kids and whatnot.
The cast all go hard as their respective characters, led by the bafflingly charisma-free Logan Lerman (who was otherwise excellent in The Perks Of Being A Wallflower, and sold The Three Musketeers with his insouciance) and Alexandra Daddario, while cameos to Anthony Head and Stanley Tucci seem somewhat out of place in the context of this films arc. Brandon T Jackson manages to be written out of the majority of the film altogether, supplanted in our attachments by Douglas Smith’s cycloptic Tyson, who is nowhere near as engaging as Jackson, nor as charismatic. Leven Lambin’s Clarisse, progeny of Ares, the God Of War, is arrogant and belligerent, although her sense of entitlement isn’t earned as much as it’s thrust upon us. Is she supposed to be a sympathetic character, or somebody we hate? Not quite sure. Nods to whoever it was that came up with the idea of having the three oracles (the Graeae) as taxi-cab driving, bickering old biddys. That made me laugh, even if their taxi-splitting-in-half routine was a blatant steal from Harry Potter’s London Bus moment.
Director Thor Freudenthal (God, is that the coolest name ever, or what?) gives the film his all, in spite of the confused and rip-roaring screenplay. Where the film stumbles with character, it backs up with some pretty decent action sequences. Freudenthal ain’t no Michael Bay, and some of the CG isn’t quite as reality-based as it needs to be to sell the illusion, but for a second-tier franchise it more than serves the purpose. There’s at least some fun to be found in amongst the kid-friendly battles (including a Transformers-esque robotic Bull, which attacks the camp in one of the better action beats the film contains), and the appearance of Nathan Fillion is worth the price of entry alone for his humor, so I guess if you’re after unassuming teen-centric fare that looks and sounds as crazy at this film is, then Sea Of Monsters delivers all the requisite angst and harrumphing you could ask for.
Sea Of Monsters will never be remembered as a blockbuster sequel, nor will it ever reach the same level of acclaim and wonder as the Harry Potter juggernaut, but it delivers just as much “excitement” and “entertainment” as its progenitor. You’ll never mistake it for a good film, but it has enough kid-friendly meandering to keep the younger ones entertained throughout its thankfully brief running time. Oh how I wish they’d spent more time developing the characters, and giving the story more impact (and the villains more evil-ness), so take from that what you will about Sea Of Monsters, and watch with advised expectations.