Logan Lerman as Percy Jackson
Brandon T. Jackson as Grover Underwood
Alexandra Daddario as Annabeth Chase
Leven Rambin as Clarisse La Rue
Jake Abel as Luke Castellan
Anthony Stuart Head as Chiron
Stanley Tucci as Dionysus
Nathan Fillion as Hermes
Douglas Smith as Tyson
Robert Maillet as Polyphemus
Missi Pyle, Yvette Nicole Brown and Mary Birdsong as The Graeae
Directed by Thor Freudenthal
With a complete change in creative personnel, and adjusted expectations, “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters” is a noticeable improvement over the first “Percy Jackson” adventure, but it’s still awkward and unsure of itself like the teenagers it purports to be about. And still doomed to continue living in Harry Potter’s shadow.
That’s not entirely “Percy’s” fault. Some of it is the compelling nature of the Hero’s Journey archetype, which invites imitation, and some of it is the desire among film executives to keep making films for teenage boys about finding your place in the world and developing agency over your own life, over and over again, under the assumption audiences have the memory and attention span of gold fish.
Which is all fine and dandy the first time out, but once you start making sequels you have to confront the reality that you’ve covered that ground already and doing it again will just be repetitive and boring. To their credit, the “Sea of Monsters” filmmakers resist the urge to shrug, say they don’t care about that, attempting to advance the characters as much as they can within the trap of the youth-oriented effects film.
Among other things, that gives us a markedly more likeable Logan Lerman as Percy himself. Not only is he a better actor now than he was three years ago, Percy himself has aged and matured as well. Though still frustrated over the lack of communication with his father, the sea god Poseidon (played by Sir Not Appearing In This Movie), much of the teenage angst of the first film has been left behind, giving us a Percy more confident in his abilities and his place in the world of Camp Half-blood.
Or he would be if he wasn’t continually being shown up by Clarisse (Leven Rambin), daughter of Ares, whose more evolved killer instincts begin to foster doubts in Percy about his abilities as a hero. Doubts he’ll have to face when the magic shield which protects the camp and its inhabitants from monsters threatens to fall, forcing Percy and his co-horts to go on a quest for the legendary Golden Fleece which may be able to heal the magic tree which casts the shield and save the camp.
Which happens pretty quickly in this much more action-oriented sequel. With all the set-up of the world out of the way in the first film, new director Thor Freudenthal (“Diary of a Wimpy Kid”) is free to jump right into the adventure itself; and jump he does with introducing several new characters including Clarisse and Percy’s one-eyed half-brother Tyson (Douglas Smith) and a fight with a giant mechanical bull, right off the bat.
In fact, “Sea of Monsters” spends quite a bit of time introducing and developing new characters and their relationships with Percy, pushing returning players like Alexandra Daddario’s Annabeth and Brandon Jackson’s Grover to the sidelines. Grover himself disappears from the film fairly early on and does not reappear again until the last act, while much of Annabeth’s feistiness has been transferred to Clarisse, offering her little to do but get pushed around and grouse about how much she distrusts Tyson.
It seems years earlier when she and Grover were young children–as opposed to near thirty-year-olds I mean teenagers–they were attacked by a band of Cyclops on their way to Camp Half-blood, saved only by the sacrifice of their friend Thalia, daughter of Zeus, whose sacrifice resulted in the tree which protects the camp in the present day.
This will all be very important later on, and by later on I mean in a third Percy Jackson film which is continually teased throughout “Sea of Monsters” to the point of becoming a little distracting (and which will require the stars of the film to be teachers at the Camp instead of students by the time they get to it at the rate they’ve been going).
There is a prophecy, you see, that the human child of one of the three Great Gods (Zeus, Hades and Poseidon) would either save or destroy Olympus by his 20th birthday, and young Percy is the only one fitting that bill, causing him to regress somewhat to worrying about his destiny and ability to chose his own path in life through much of the film (and I assume through a third film if they actually make it).
That’s something Luke (Jake Abel), son of Hermes, would happily like to see come to pass as he returns to both antagonize Percy again and prove that he is the better actor of the two and would probably have made a better star than Lerman. Though he has gotten more self-assured as an actor, Lerman continues to spend most of his time getting upstaged by more flamboyant personalities, like Nathan Fillion’s Hermes, who seems to be channeling Alec Baldwin from “30 Rock.”
That said, “Sea of Monsters” is still a genuine improvement over the tepid “Lightning Thief.” Freudenthal and screenwriter Marc Guggenheim (“Green Lantern”) have pushed aside any supporting characters not directly related to the goings on, creating a more focused narrative. Combined with a better sense of Percy as a character, and actually attempting to grow him as a person, results in a noticeably better film.
“Percy” is still, however, its own worst enemy. It’s difficult to make a move for the juvenile without becoming juvenile–it’s a balance filmmakers fight and lose against all the time–and “Sea of Monsters” bounces around that line quite a bit. Unfortunately, neither Freudenthal nor Guggeheim is particularly good at being whimsical and the attempts at levity or comically showing the godly world inside the real one fall hopelessly flat.
Still, the fact that they were able to improve so much from the first film shows there’s life in the “Percy Jackson” boat yet. Yeah, it’s still living under a big, lightning bolt shaped shadow, but there’s room to grow and at least some desire to attempt it. Here’s hoping they make that third film after all.