I hope the books are better than the films as I review Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters (2013)

Sea Of Monsters Poster

“Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters” is the sequel to 2010’s modestly successful and reasonably entertaining “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief”. Unfortunately, the wordiness of the title isn’t the only thing that’s been scaled back since the last time we hung out with Percy & Friends.

“Sea Of Monsters” is a cheap and lazy sequel, a half-hearted attempt to squeeze out a franchise despite audience indifference. Gone is the star power of the first instalment, so no Sean Bean, no Steve Coogan, no Rosario Dawson, Ray Winstone or Uma Thurman. Gone too is director Chris Columbus, replaced by Thor Freudenthal, which feels like just a tiny step up from The Simpsons’ Señor Spielbergo. To be fair, not all the cast changes are downgrades. Dyonisis is played by Stanley Tucci and the centaur Chiron is played by Anthony Stewart Head, a definite upgrade on the first film’s Pierce Brosnan. Also popping up as a bonus is genre MVP Nathan Fillion playing Hermes.

“Sea Of Monsters” is, in effect, a tween-friendly remake of “Wrath Of The Titans” but it has two major problems: first, for a film called “Sea Of Monsters”, there’s a pronounced lack of monsters and only one of them appears in the sea. In fact, the four which appear on the poster are pretty much your lot (and one of them’s a friendly mode of transport). Second, Percy Jackson is a really underwhelming hero. He is indecisive, slow to act, and lacks any real bravery or intelligence. These character traits are helpfully pointed out early and throughout the film by Percy himself.

Luke, the half-human son of Hermes from the first film attacks Camp Half-Blood, the home of the children of the Gods, for reasons which aren’t quite clear and serve no purpose but to draw our heroes’ attention to his larger scheme. To thwart Luke and save their camp, a champion is chosen to seek the Golden Fleece, but it isn’t Percy – it’s new character Clarisse (daughter of Ares). Of course, Percy and his friends set off themselves, along with Percy’s newly arrived cyclops half-brother Tyson. The cyclops special effect is quite well done but must have been quite pricey because it’s quickly and conveniently disguised by using “Mist” to give Tyson a normal, binocular appearance throughout most of the film.

In fact convenience plays a huge role in the film and even for a movie about Greek Gods and their children, there’s a credibility straining number of deus ex machina plot point resolutions. Unlike “Harry Potter”, which this desperately aches to be, any apparent deaths are easily and usually swiftly reversed but even the resurrections fail to surprise because they’re so obviously going to happen. And the climactic battle which the whole film has been leading up to is a major letdown.

Where the original was a half-decent family-friendly fantasy film by the fourth-best Director ever to helm a Harry Potter film, this is a poorly plotted, sloppy affair with wafer-thin characterisation and careless writing. The effects are pretty cheap and some scenes, especially the final monster, look more like end of level video game cut scenes than fantastical cinematic monsters. There are a few bright spots – the attack on Camp Half-Blood by a Colchis Bull is well realised and thrilling (which only serves to make the rest of the film more disappointing). Stanley Tucci and Anthony Stewart Head are good value and it’s nice to see “Return Of The Jedi”‘s Sarlaac can still get work these days as Charybdis.

Throughout the film, there’s a lot of discussion of a prophecy, which gives Percy more to worry about than his own inadequacies. But if you’re thinking that was just a device to heighten the tension for the finale, think again: it’s used to set up a potential third instalment in this crushingly mediocre saga. Perhaps it will be straight to DVD?