In Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, choosing the dumbest character is a colossal task. Is it one of the young heroes, who stand around staring when they should be running or share tender moments when they should be finishing off an evil opponent? Is it the young villain, who doesn’t understand that resurrecting a carnivorous god famous for eating his children is perhaps not the safest or smartest way to rebel against the status quo? Or are these characters merely prisoners — much like the audience — of a script so uninspired that it demands their stupidity?
Hard to say. What’s easier to deduce, though, is that this second installment in the series based on Rick Riordan’s popular young adult fantasy novels is a dud. Sea of Monsters — which, strangely, includes precisely one sea monster, not nearly enough by my reckoning — is slow-paced and slow-witted, with curiously lackluster action scenes that trudge along with all the thrill of a homework assignment.
Sea of Monsters finds Percy (Logan Lerman of The Perks of Being a Wallflower) and his pals at Camp Half Blood, a safe haven for the offspring of some seriously promiscuous gods, judging by the large number of young people there. Percy’s dad is Poseidon, which gives Percy the ability to manipulate water, although in terms of parental guidance Poseidon is really sort of a deadbeat. Kinship with him will allow you to create waves, but don’t expect that talk on the birds and the bees anytime soon. This may explain the lack of even a hint of blossoming romance between these teenagers, who should be walking hormones at this age. Even Harry and Ron and Hermione smooched their classmates.
When a mechanical bull breaches the force field that protects the camp and a very important tree begins to die, the kids set off on a quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece. Its healing properties can save the tree and restore the protective magical barrier, and recovering it can also put to rest Percy’s fears that his role in the events of The Lightning Thief was not a fluke.
Familiarity with the first movie isn’t necessary to follow the action, but coming to Sea of Monsters with a deep affection for these characters would be helpful. The film versions are impossibly bland, from Percy to his girl sidekick Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) to his satyr BFF (Brandon T. Jackson) to the bossy, competitive Clarisse (Leven Rambin). The only one who achieves any measure of charisma is Douglas Smith (Big Love) as Tyson, Percy’s cheerful half brother, who also happens to be a Cyclops. Sadly, Tyson gives rise to a tiresome sideplot about Cyclops bigotry, which doesn’t seem unreasonable when you consider that there’s a flesh-eating Cyclops guarding the fleece and just waiting for some tasty Half Bloods to show up and retrieve it.
The adults are mostly wasted — why bother to cast Nathan Fillion when you’re going to upstage him with a couple of unfunny, bickering snakes? — but at least the final scene offers potential for the next film. But until the screenwriters add depth to these characters and learn to stage an action sequence, the next Percy Jackson will end up just like this one: a reminder of how much better the Harry Potter movies were.
Cast: Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Douglas Smith, Leven Rambin, Brandon T. Jackson, Jake Abel.
Director: Thor Freudenthal.
Screenwriter: Marc Guggenheim. Based on the book by Rick Riordan.
Producers: Michael Barnathan, Chris Columbus, Karen Rosenfelt.
A 20th Century Fox release. Running time: 106 minutes. Fantasy action violence, some scary images and mild language. Playing at area theaters.