Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013) – Directed by Thor Freudenthal – Starring Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Douglas Smith, Leven Rambin, Jake Abel, Stanley Tucci, Anthony Stewart Head, Nathan Fillion, Octavia Spencer, Craig Robinson, and Robert Knepper.
I haven’t read the Percy Jackson books but I did see the first movie, THE LIGHTNING THIEF. I didn’t write a review of it, apparently, which is too bad because while I remember liking it quite a bit, I don’t remember much of anything that happened in the movie. I certainly didn’t like it enough that I saw SEA OF MONSTERS in the theater, but I did like it enough to put it at the top of my Netflix queue once I realized they had it.
I wish I had written that review because SEA OF MONSTERS is a rather dreadful, joyless, mean-spirited movie that mistakes character attributes for character development.
There are some things to like about SEA OF MONSTERS, so this movie is far from a disaster, but the most disappointing thing about this movie is how mean it is. There is a constant sense, through the early half of the movie, that none of these characters are worth giving much of a damn about. Percy (Logan Lerman) isn’t a bad guy, but he’s wracked with a misguided sense of self-doubt. He openly wonders if he’s a “one quest wonder” and although we see him sacrifice his chance of winning an athletic competition in order to save a competitor from harm, his narrative reward for this is that he has to clean up the gaming area all by himself. There’s no sense of, “Look, you lost, but you did the right thing.” Instead, the meanness and selfishness of Clarisse La Rue (Leven Rambin) is the dominant position.
When it’s revealed that Percy has a half-brother, a Cyclops named Tyson (Douglas Smith), Percy gets a, “Yuk, you only have one eye!” look and doesn’t want much to do with him because he’s a klutzy, simplistic, definitively uncool guy. When Tyson puts on sunglasses to hide the fact he only has one eye, Percy doesn’t tell him no or encourage him to embrace who he is – he just lets Tyson do it. (And then later, he tells him not to do it, because character development.) MONSTERS successfully plugs into that high school conception of social hierarchy but does so in a rather unrelenting manner.
Percy has two sidekicks: Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) and Grover (Brandon T. Jackson). The first one is supportive, smart, and so anti-Cyclops it’s hard not to see her as pretty reprehensible. She wants nothing to do with him, doesn’t trust him, and then when she realizes she can’t convince Percy and Grover to leave Tyson behind, she uses magic perfume to make him look like a two-eyed human instead of a one-eyed monster. For Grover’s part, he’s such a, “Man, I don’t want to do that because it’s dangerous but I will let you bully me into it” kinda guy that it’s hard to pinpoint which version of his cowardice is the most annoying.
The bad guy this time around is Luke (Jake Abel), which surprises people because he was the bad guy last time. I hate how the film treats Luke because he has a legitimate beef about how their parents have abandoned them, but he acts in such a way that it obliterates his main argument. Percy and Company live at Camp Half-Blood, a home for god/human offspring. I can understand why Luke has a chip on his shoulder – Camp Half-Blood feels like it’s a summer camp full of campers who are only attending because their parents wanted them out of the house for a bit. Luke’s anger at his father is one of the few understandable emotions in the film – Hermes (Nathan Fillion) never has an actual conversation with his son but sends a message along with Percy, reinforcing and justifying Luke’s anger. While Luke has a point, however, his reaction to this absentee parenting is to steal the Golden Fleece and bring Kronos back to life so the Titan can destroy Olympus. So, yeah, who’s going to give his anger any real attention when what he does with it is so reprehensible? Whatever philosophical nuance Luke’s feelings about his father brings to the narrative table is thus obliterated by his desire to commit genocide in response to his hurt feelings.
Camp Half-Blood (which is a really stupid name) is run by Dionysus/Mr. D (Stanley Tucci), who can’t remember anyone’s name, which is supposed to pass for levity but only manages to reinforce what horrible parents the Olympians are – not only are they absentee parents, they put a guy who doesn’t want to be there and can’t be bothered to learn the kids’ names in charge of running the camp. (There is also a huge amount of children at Camp-Your-God-Parent-Doesn’t-Love-You, which reinforces just how weird of a set-up this is.) There’s a protective barrier around the camp to keep the kids safe but it breaks, letting in a very cool mechanical bull that wants to destroy everyone, and the gods definitely do not show up to help fix the barrier or offer protection. On the one hand, I like that the kids have to learn how to do things on their own; on the other hand, people are trying to kill them. A little parental help isn’t asking for a lot.
Annabeth comes up with a plan to go get the Golden Fleece to fix the tree that generates the barrier, but Mr. D tells her it’s a terrible plan and then goes in front of the assembled camp to pass off Annabeth’s plan as his own. Huh?
Mr. D doesn’t care enough about the kids to learn their names but he wants to impress them with a plan to save the day? Okay.
The only person at Camp Absentee Parent with any kind of decency is Chiron, a centaur that used to look like James Bond and now looks like Giles. Anthony Stewart Head is very good as the concerned centaur, but the film is less interested in his sage advice as it is in Mr. D’s silliness. One of the things I really admire about the Harry Potter series (both books and films) is how the kids still get to be at the center of the story but the adults are still involved. You could easily write the Harry Potter series from Dumbledore’s point of view because J.K. Rowling creates a very real story (backgrounded though it usually is) for the adults in her stories. Here? That doesn’t happen, so when Poseidon sends a water horse at one point (which is a very cool scene) you wonder what’s going on with him? He can’t be bothered to do more than send a gift? Why?
It bears mentioning here that one of the reasons I so rarely call out screenwriters for doing a great/poor job is because we just do not know who’s responsible for what. Make no mistake, the story that makes its way into your Blu-ray player is an amateurishly told story, but is that Marc Guggenheim’s fault? I have a hard time putting the blame on him – we don’t know what his earlier drafts look like, and we don’t know what, if any, changes to those drafts were made at the studio’s behest. When you’re hired to write a screenplay for a studio, my feeling is that your duty is to give them the story they want. Were there script doctors called in? Changes made after Guggenheim had turned in his final draft? I’m much more comfortable saying this is a poorly told story and letting that stand. It’s likely some shared fault of Guggenheim, the producers, and the director, but my only real interest is in what gets on the screen and what gets on the screen here isn’t very good.
There are some good things here, though. Once the adventure gets past the dumb dumb dumb cab driving sequence and to Nathan Fillion, the movie picks up steam, characters start becoming likable and working together, and the action sequence are, if not spectacular, certainly visually pleasing. There is a really good story in here, and the elements for a good film aren’t far off the screen. Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, and Alexandra Daddario are all likeable actors, but the story does them no favors. They make me want to like this film, but other than a few pocketed moments of action, SEA OF MONSTERS simply doesn’t deliver.
The official book description:
The Five are back!
It’s March in the Meadow and Christmas is the furthest thing from the minds of Farm the Half-Wolverine, Aurora the Fox, Jasper the Porcupine, Flake the Rabbit, and Notter the Otter. A visit from the Christmas Ghosts changes all that. The North Pole is under attack by unknown assailants, Santa Claus (both of them!) is dying, and it’s up to the Five to save Christmas!
The Five do not travel to the North Pole alone, however, as Aurora’s little sister, Pyxis, surprises them by tagging along. The young fox faces a series of trials alongside the Five she could never have imagined facing, and learns the value of friendship and the true meaning of sisterhood. Can Pyxis save Farm’s life, win the Reindeer Games, and become the Queen of the Polar Bears? Which member of the Five gets swallowed by a whale? Who discovers a buried secret deep below the North Pole? Can the Five save Santa Claus (both of them!)?
Joined by old friends and confronted by new enemies, it’s up to the Five to journey to the top of the world and stop the ancient evil contained within the Scarlet Nutcracker!
Big Orange Toy Box is a new imprint committed to quality, adventure-driven entertainment for an all ages audience.
THE CHRISTMAS ENGINE is the sequel to THE COMING OF FROST,which is available again for the Kindle and in paperback with a new cover and new interior formatting to make it easier to read and put it in line with the cover/layout of CHRISTMAS ENGINE.