This movie is the sequel to Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief, which came out in 2010. If you have no idea what franchise I’m talking about, I’ll give you a brief rundown.
Percy Jackson & The Olympians is a book series by Rick Riordan. Upon reading them (long ago), I’d call it Harry Potter meets Greek mythology but even easier to read. You might be saying, “That sounds dumb,” but just know you might be the same people who read books and watch movies about vampires and werewolves, so you can’t throw shade at fantasy without throwing shade at ALL fantasy.
Quite frankly, I love this series. Then again, I don’t count because I’ve been obsessed with Greek mythology since I was a child. What I think is unique about the series is that, for kids, it teaches them Greek myth in a relatable way, as the story’s hero, Percy, is the modern-day son of the Poseidon. He deals with being a teenager, as well as a demigod, and his adventures are epic enough that they resemble the tales of Perseus, Hercules, and other demigods. For adults, it’s just nerdy fun.
The first Percy Jackson movie was on par with the other book-to-film, fantasy movies. In comparison to the others, I’d say it leans more Chronicles of Narnia because it keeps a fairly lighthearted tone while dealing with the heavy nature of the typical “monomyth.” I actually did enjoy the first film, and I think that’s what made this movie such a disappointment for me. But more on that in a second…
Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief centered around stopping a war between the gods of Olympus, which, I mean…shit. That’s a big quest for a bunch of awkward teenagers. Perhaps that’s why Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters feels so lackluster. You see, the story of Sea of Monsters centers around saving the tree that protects Camp Half-Blood, where all of the demigods live and train. Not exactly “war between the gods” level of threat. Sure, without the tree, the camp is vulnerable to attack, though the movie never really goes into detail about who would attack a camp full of demigods (Luke, son of Hermes, doesn’t count. He’s barely a “bad guy.”)
Percy, after having successfully saved Olympus in the previous film, has become a “one-hit wonder,” so Clarisse, daughter of Ares, has been sent on a quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece, which is said to bring anything and everything back to life (like Pet Sematary!). Of course, Percy goes after the fleece, too, because he wants to prove himself. Oh, and did I mention there’s a prophecy? Yep. Not only does Percy have daddy and forgotten hero issues, he’s also a possible candidate for a prophecy about a child of one of the big three (Zeus, Poseidon, or Hades) either destroying or saving Olympus (which you won’t see until the end of the series). Also, in keeping with Greek epic tradition, Percy faces multiple foes on his journey, including Luke, a monster whose name I cannot remember because it’s really long and awkward, a Cyclops, and the Titan god Kronos.
The problem with this movie is that it fell into the obvious sequel trap, as most of them usually do. While the director and screenwriters shoved as much action sequences into our eye sockets as possible in a hot mess of pacing, they forgot that the heart of this story is, well, a story. Where The Lightning Thief had a steady build-up of action and enough time to develop characters who were new to non-readers, Sea of Monsters sped through the plot, forgetting to develop the new, secondary characters (of which there were several) and continue to build upon the stories of Percy, Annabeth, Grover, and Luke. This goes back to what I will constantly beat you over the head with about sequels.
The first story sets the stage for a character. The sequel’s job is to deliver a new story that pushes that character to change just enough that we don’t feel like we’ve watched the same movie twice, and it also has to lead into the next story for the following film. Sea of Monsters does lead into the next story (The Titan’s Curse, which will be made if all goes well money-wise), what with the awakening of Zeus’ demigod daughter, Thalia (Oh, no! Another prophetic child to compete with!), but it does little else.
With what we know about the obnoxiousness of the “summer blockbuster,” this makes me wonder if the director and screenwriters would’ve crafted this movie better had it been scheduled for a November or December holiday release (like most of the Harry Potter films) instead of an August summer release. Hmm…
So the new characters in this story/film (who are worth mentioning) are Clarisse, Tyson, and Dionysus. Clarisse (Leven Rambin) is ridiculously one-dimensional, even for a secondary character. She’s pushy and arrogant, and you can’t even mistake this behavior for her being a strong female either. She stomps around, huffing her breath, and acts like an asshole without any reason (A backstory would’ve been nice, right?). Sure, she’s the daughter of Ares, the god of war, so it makes sense for her to be hot-headed. But her schtick grows tiring after a while. Tyson (Douglas Smith) is Percy’s half-brother, a son of Poseidon who is also a cyclops. He’s pretty sweet and clumsy, so it’s hard not to like him. He’s a character that actually helps Percy grow in the story, so he’s a bit more useful than Clarisse. Still, I want to know more of his backstory. Dionysus (Stanley Tucci), the god of wine, is just awesome. Of course, Stanley Tucci has something to do with that. He spends most of his scenes complaining about Zeus turning his wine into water, and it’s funny (Side note: What is the god of wine doing leading a camp for young demigods? Doesn’t that seem irresponsible?) Can we please have more Tucci?
With the main characters of Percy, Annabeth, and Grover, I feel as though they devolved in this movie. We should’ve seen them slightly more mature from our last encounter, yet they were more awkward and angsty than ever. It doesn’t help that Thor Freudenthal of the awkward and angsty Diary of a Wimpy Kid was directing them either. Logan Lerman did manage to convince me to give Percy a little sympathy whenever Percy came to the realization that he was a small pawn in the configuration of the world around him; for the rest of the film, however, he was uninspiring. Brandon T. Jackson, who plays Percy’s satyr friend, Grover, gets the worst of all of them, as his acting talent is constantly undermined by his role as the token ethnic friend. Annabeth, of course, is the character in whom I’m most disappointed. In The Lightning Thief, she was confident, well-prepared, and seemed a good foil to Percy’s naivety. In Sea of Monsters, she was demoted to “friend who is a girl.” I expect so much more from a movie that already has the goddamn source material on a silver platter.
I will say this. While the CGI looks tacky in some moments (like Tyson’s cyclops eye), you can definitely tell the art department went all out on creating Kronos (the Titan god who shows up for about five minutes as a villain). Every time Kronos moved, pieces of his body had to fly around and fill in empty spots where he needed them. For example, when he was walking, one leg would appear and then transform into the other. It’s hard to explain, but it’s a cool effect that obviously took a lot of time and effort. Kudos, art people.
Overall, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters was a weak sequel. I’m disappointed in this film because I know how good the story is and how entertaining it could’ve been. It lacked the magic of the first film, introduced too many characters who were barely given enough screentime to make us give a shit, and forgot the point that the Percy Jackson & The Olympians series is supposed to be an epic tale. That’s not to say it doesn’t have its moments. In fact, the decision to cast Stanley Tucci as Dionysus, as well as the resulting performance (despite how small), was enough to keep me from giving this a D+. But these little gems are far too few to make moviegoers want to continue onto the next story of The Titan’s Curse.
My suggestion to the production company interested in keeping this franchise alive? Never use Thor Freudenthal again, and remind your writers that they already have good source material that doesn’t need to be rushed or ignored. Basically, what I’m saying is that, if The Lightning Thief was Casino Royale, then Sea of Monsters would definitely be its Quantum of Solace.