Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
Thor Freudenthal’s half-hearted sequel to Chris Columbus’ 2010 sub-Harry Potter Young Adult adaptation reeks of a budget-strapped follow-up. Movies that don’t feel the urge to hit the two-hour finish line are fine by me, but when the quest for Golden Fleece is a one-stop shop it’s clear something has gone seriously awry somewhere. While there are a couple of sprightly elders livening up the supporting roles, Sea of Monsters mostly fails to pass muster, even stood next to its slight but likeable predecessor.
Reputedly costing less than The Lightning Thief, the bean counters obviously decided it made financial sense based on that movie’s post-theatrical earnings. That is, it got made by the skin of its teeth. Everyone is looking for the next Potter, then the next Twilight and now the next Hunger Games. Percy Jackson takes its cues of destiny’s child from Potter, along with the assorted sidekicks/ mentor types, but it also hearkens to Chronicles of Narnia in its overt references to religion/mythology (Christianity, the Greek pantheon). Narnia also scraped together a (second) sequel based on long-term maths rather than instant benefits after Prince Caspian floundered.
So Sea of Monsters has to make do with a director of a mid-range comedies (Hotel for Dogs, Diary of a Wimpy Kid) and the loss of the entirety of the adult cast of Lightning Thief (so no Brosnan, Bean, McKidd. Thurman, Dawson or Coogan). Anthony Head fills in comfortably for Brosnan as Chiron, a Rupert Giles-type professor with four hooves. Stanley Tucci makes one of his dazzling cameos as Mr D (did they think calling him Dionysus would be too potent a signifier of debauchery?), perpetually attempting to fill a glass of fine wine only for it to transform to water before he is able to drink a drop (at Zeus’ decree). He also has a winningly disreputable taste for stealing ideas and palming them off as his own. Nathan Fillion cameos as Hermes, the father of the not-that-threatening-really returning bad teen Luke (Jake Abel, who gets the occasional decent line delivery, “What are you doing? Don’t walk on my roof!” but lacks a sense of genuine menace). Fillion, still eating all the pies, is content to dine out on the decade old memory of Firefly (Hercules Busts Heads; “The best TV show ever, so, of course, cancelled”).
The adult support aside, it’s Brandon T Jackson as satyr Grover who yet again steals the show (it’s questionable why no one comments on satyrs being naked from the waist down, centaurs too; is it only because there’s a lot of hair concealing their bits?). When he’s not off screen and captured, that is. He disappears for a long period, but instantly reaps the laughs when he resurfaces disguised as a lady Cyclops. Logan Lerman has an open-faced guilelessness that could prove irritating if he wasn’t also a decent actor. He isn’t especially well-served by Percy, a strictly predictable role of good-natured heroism fuelled by a ready supply of platitudes. Not helping matters is the introduction of his sub-Ted “Theodore” Logan half-brother, Tyson (Douglas Smith); he’s a dozy but brave dread-head Cyclops. Alexandra Daddio returns as Annabeth (the Hermione role), Athena’s daughter) while Leven Rambin is Clarisse, a headstrong and haughty half-daughter of Ares. These bastard offspring are rendered quite innocuous by the dedicatedly unremarkable storytelling.
Any given high point of Greek mythology is ironed into anodyne shape, complete with strange connections between given legends presumably decided by pulling names out of a hat. Luke plans to resurrect the Titan Kronos, father of Zeus (a victim of mass patricide, although to be fair he did have a habit of eating his own brood). His remains just happen to reside in a casket that bears a strong resemblance to Raiders’ ark (Titan himself is more your standard-issue, demonic horned god type, when he is mustered). To complete this task Luke requires the Golden Fleece, a rather non-descript piece of rug here but one with the handy power to heal pretty much anything and everything. In turn, Percy requires it to save the tree that protects Camp Half-Blood (there’s a first draft site name if ever there was one).
The Fleece is guarded over by Polyphemus the Cyclops, who for some reason now lives on Circe’s island. In the middle of the Bermuda Triangle. This mish-mash might have been all right if used to blend elements into an inventive melange, but the result is consistently limp. On the plus side there’s a whacky car journey with the Graeae that is at least lively. It takes the one-eyed sisters and sticks them in a demonic taxicab that could be an outtake from Bill Murray’s Scrooged. The insides of Charybdis seem to have been half-inspired by Gilliam’s Baron Munchausen, but such inventiveness is few and far between.
It’s nice to see a hippocampus, but why is it even necessary when Percy is travelling across water… which he has command over? The special effects aren’t so special either, especially for a movie that reportedly wasn’t that cheap, as if all designers just couldn’t summon any enthusiasm. And that’s Sea of Monsters all over. It’s okay, and there’s at least more life than in those dismayingly charmless Sam Worthington Perseus flicks, but its still quite sad to see such rich material wasted so profusely.
Sea of Monsters didn’t do that much less business than the first so, with a fourth Narnia tentatively planned, The Titan’s Curse may well follow. But if this series does, just about, continue to make sense financially, at some point the producers will be forced to recast, drastically reduce the budgets (they may well end up as straight-to-DVD fare), or even reboot it in a TV incarnation. To realistically ride the crest of the Potter wave Percy needed to become a movie series almost as soon as its 2005 novel debut, not five years later. As I understand it, the Jackson faithful aren’t that keen on the way the makers keep messing with the books, giving the movies even less reason to be. This is a series where it’s left to the supporting characters maintain the interest and where the myths are so neutered as to be virtually unrecognisable. Also, the title’s misleading. I could only count one (monster).