We’re definitely running the gamut this weekend. Having witnessed one of the best films of the year and one of the worst, all that’s left is the soft, mushy middle. Enter Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, a forgettable sequel to a decent original that registers as one giant collective shrug. None of it’s particularly unpleasant, it just smacks of zero effort: a cast and crew perpetuating the franchise solely because some number-cruncher decided it was worth the investment. Get pumped people!
It makes me particularly sad because I love this premise, which has the potential to do great things. The entire blockbuster school of filmmaking owes its debts to the Greeks, with their tales of mythic heroes and awestruck wonders. So why not go back to the source? The original book series showed us modern demigods – children with one immortal parent and one human parent – battle monsters and go on quests here in the 21st century world. The first Percy Jackson movie did cool things with that notion… though I must confess I had to look at it again to remember the details. Those waters of Lethe bode ill for the sequel, which attempts the same trick with only a fraction of the inspiration.
This time, the goal is the Golden Fleece, which has the power to bring the dead back to life. Percy (Logan Lerman) and his friends need it to resurrect the guardian of their hidden school, which protects them from various forms of mythic beast. It lies amid the Sea of Monsters, which shouldn’t scare Percy too much since his dad, Poseidon, grants him control over water. But his wicked rival Luke (Jake Abel) also wants the Fleece, prompting a desperate race against time to reach it first.
The ho-hums start almost before the backstory finishes, involving a lot of CGI monsters that excel in design but collapse as drama. (You will never see a more awkward use of Meta the Nathan Fillion’s unfortunate Firefly riff here.) We need to get back up to speed too quickly, which becomes doubly difficult since certain key actors (Pierce Brosnan) have been awkwardly replaced with new performers and others (Sean Bean) are complete no-shows. Part of the problem also lies in the fact that Percy and his friends have too many cards in their corner. Nothing seems to challenge them unduly and director Thor Freudenthal lacks the narrative oomph to make us feel the threats. Without any real danger, we soon devolve into fill-in-the-blank territory, a blow from which the film never recovers.
The early scenes start out passably, with Stanley Tucci stealing the show as an earth-bound Dionysus dressed in a Jimmy Buffet Hawaiian shirt. He echoes the first film’s clever tweaking of mythic tropes, as do the three Grey Sisters, spotted here driving a cab. Soon enough, however, that mixed bag falls completely apart. You can literally spot the moment where Sea of Monsters gives up on itself, with a sequence that – following the film’s own logic – should have ended in the villain’s expedient demise. Instead, we just pick up the next scene as if nothing happened, draining the last of the dramatic tension and leaving some third-rate money shots in its wake. A few flashes of better things arise – the sea monster Charybdis is well-executed and cleverly presented – but they can’t stand up against the avalanche of mediocrity surrounding them.
Indeed, the fact that so little of the first film lingers in the mind is quite telling. That entry had so much more going for it, but even then it struggled to leave a lasting impression. All this one can muster is tired over-plotting, complete with a cliffhanger that will likely never see a resolution given the dismal box office prospects. It didn’t have to be that way, a fact that makes Sea of Monsters all the more regrettable. You could have fought better little movie. More than that, you really, really should have.