‘Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters’ Review
When 'Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief' came out in 2010, it looked suspiciously as if the would-be franchise, based on Rick Riordan's best-selling teen adventure books, was going to get 'Golden Compass'-ed -- stopped after one installment and left to languish. But the first adventures of title hero Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) -- born to a mortal mother and the Greek God Poseidon made $226 million worldwide, never mind home video.
So, we get a second helping of Percy's adventures, which mix the home-away-from-home setting and grow-up-fast themes of 'Harry Potter' with some all-American gumption and a little Greek dressing on the side. With a new writer and director -- and what seems like a budget spent more on computer effects than human actors -- 'Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters' is exactly the kind of film that was made for me to take my teen and tween nieces to, not for me to enjoy. There's some bloodless peril, not even a whiff of romance and plenty of spirited action.
Directed by Thor Freudenthal (taking a jump up from 'Diary of a Wimpy Kid,') 'Sea of Monsters' delivers more action from the opening, starting with a training sequence interrupted by a steampunk robot-bull killing machine, unleashing both the plot and the McGuffin it requires. The golden fleece, which can heal any wound, must be found to save Camp Half-Blood, the Northeastern outdoorsy Hogwarts for the film's kid heroes. Too bad that series nemesis Luke (Jake Abel) is looking for the golden fleece too, so as to destroy the world ...
Screenwriter Marc Guggenheim, whose resume includes the wretched 'Green Lantern' and several video games, does an adequate job here, upping the speed and power of the action sequences while allowing for just enough heroic uncertainty that Percy might not actually be a chosen-one hero but instead, as friend and satyr Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) puts it, "a one-quest wonder."
Percy faces down Luke with the help of his friends: Grover; the smart and spirited Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), who's also a daughter of Athena; the cocky and confident Clarisse (Leven Rambin), who's a child of the war god Ares; and the affably glad-to-be-along-for-the-journey half-cyclops Tyson (Douglas Smith). Our young heroes are agreeable -- imperfect, flawed, friendly, striving, able to rely on each other in the end. (In fact, if you split Jughead between Grover and Tyson, the 'Percy Jackson' crew correlate remarkably well to the dynamics and demeanors of the five principal players of the Archie gang from Riverdale, which is probably not a coincidence.)
There's fights and sights and cameos, and if Nathan Fillion's Hermes lacks the snap and style of Uma Thurman's Medusa from the first film, there's a lively baddie in Polythemus, a colossal-yet-squat cyclops brought to life with clever CGI and the rumbling, rousing voice of Ron Perlman. Lerman is a more active action hero, as well -- decent, determined, fighting not for glory or fortune but rather to help his friends. Lerman was fine in 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower,' but the breezy, easy adventure of the 'Jackson' films seems to suit him, and he wears the character well. Filmgoers and fans will be able to follow the character arcs and the fight scenes, with both done well and simply enough to suffice. 'Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters' is hardly the stuff of legend, but by keeping the plot straightforward and the storytelling clean, it's an odyssey the intended young audience will be glad to take.
'Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters' hits theaters tomorrow, August 7.
James Rocchi is a columnist for MSN Movies and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.