Thursday, August 1, 2013

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Thank goodness I saw this movie for free. I have to say I wasn't a huge fan of Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, but I found it fairly enjoyable for a February release. It attracted a lot of talent at the very least, perhaps from actors who thought they were jumping on the next Harry Potter-esque franchise. One of the most telling signs of quality when it comes to the sequel is how quickly all the experienced talent seems to have scattered in all directions. Gone is director Chris Columbus, stars Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Uma Thurman and even Kevin McKidd. Having said that, I still went into this viewing with a bit of slightly misplaced optimism if for no other reason than that this was a summer release, usually implying confidence from the studio executives releasing the film.

Percy Jackson is still a demigod, training perpetually at Camp Half-Blood and questioning his abilities to an unresponsive father (Poseidon). When a familiar foe returns to the camp and destroys its protective shield, Percy embarks on a quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece. The item has magical healing properties that can save the tree from which the shield originates. However, Percy soon realizes that a prophecy foretells his involvement in either Olympus's destruction or salvation and therefore departs from Camp Half-Blood with some trepidation.

Even writing that brief introduction was a struggle for me not to point out some of the blatant plot holes riddling this screenplay. The screenwriter for Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is also responsible for the (in retrospect) underwhelming film adaptation of the DC character, Green Lantern. The dialogue in this film is unintentionally comedic, the story almost nonsensical, and the conflict so unclear that my jaw literally dropped when I tried to boil down exactly why things happen the way they do.

Most of the characters here are new to the Percy Jackson universe, except for the three leads. While he did a remarkable job in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Logan Lerman puts in a pretty pathetic performance in his attempt to bring pathos to Percy Jackson. His line readings are so dull that I had to wonder if he knew the kind of film he was in and was just trying to get through it. The other performances are equally poor, but their lack of speaking lines makes them slightly more tolerable. New to the cast is Douglas Smith playing a goofy cyclops and Percy's long lost half-brother (yeah, they went there), Tyson. Not only does the character's presence feel like Scrappy-Doo, but his inexperience and lack of screen presence is one of the first of many "made-for-TV" vibes I got from this film. The saving grace from this cast is a bit part from Nathan Fillion (Firefly, Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog). His genuinely funny and often self-referential lines make me think he must have ad-libbed most of them himself.

I haven't read the books, but if the titular "Sea of Monsters" is as pointless and non-existent as it is in the film then I never want to read them. The film shows exactly one sea monster and besides the fact that we never get a full view of the creature, it also only remains in the film for about five minutes. The rest of the plot hinges on contrived scenarios of Percy not using his water-manipulation abilities when it would easily solve the problem at hand. Nothing had me laughing at this movie as much as Percy and the villainous Luke riding atop a cartoon-looking wave like surfers heading toward a fleeing motor boat (despite Luke not sharing Percy's power over water).

Usually in a fantasy film like this the most impressive aspect is the visual effects, if not always the script. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters not only doesn't hold up to its peers in that respect, but the effects are often on the level of made-for-TV junk like Sharknado. Despite the summer release time, it's clear that 20th Century Fox wasn't willing to invest good CGI money to make these effects believable. Honestly, I couldn't help wondering why they even went back to this franchise in the first place with so little of what made the original a modest success.

Despite all of those complaints, I have to admit that this film isn't necessarily made for me; particularly since the new director was also responsible for films like Stuart Little 2 and Hotel for Dogs. Clearly he only knows how to cater to one age group, as my nine year-old niece (who actually enjoyed the film) can attest. This allows me to grant it the slightest of mercies, though the overall stupidity and lack of ambition really disgusts me as a film lover. When thinking of metaphors for this film, the clunky dialogue provided perfect examples with gems such as the sarcastically delivered "that was subtle" or my personal favorite, "I thought that was going to be a lot more fun". Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters isn't just bad, it's almost so bad it's good. It's predictable, plodding and preposterous, but beyond that it boasts a cavalcade of cliches that I just cannot abide. I do not recommend this film (in case you couldn't tell) and I give it a generous two stars.

PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS is rated PG for fantasy action violence, some scary images and mild language