Monday, September 16, 2013

"Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" Review: A Better Film Than The First That Still Feels Lacking

Much like the Twilight phenomenon, movie studios have been hard at work trying to replicate the runaway success that was the Harry Potter franchise for years now. While most of the other franchise upstarts came to a grinding halt for a plethora of reasons (The Golden Compass and Eragon being the two best examples), studios have still fought long and hard to get a piece of that lucrative fanbase that since the end of the Potter series, have been craving more fantasy novel-to-screen adaptations.

But are they really? Craving more of the same that is? Well, the folks behind this second entry into the Percy Jackson franchise seem to think so. While it is noteworthy for getting a sequel (something those other failed franchise starters failed at), the question remains as to whether or not we needed another Percy Jackson movie and more importantly, is it the Harry Potter replacement we have supposedly been waiting for? Read the full review after the break.

Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is one of many demi-gods (half human and half god) who reside within the safe magical walls of Camp Half-Blood, a home for those who have the distinct honor of being the half human child of one of the many gods who live in Olympus. Percy is different though, as the only son of Poseidon (one of the three elder gods), great things are expected of him and when tragedy strikes Camp Half-Blood, it is up to Percy, his satyr Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), daughter of Athena, to go on a quest in search of the mythical Golden Fleece located deep within the Sea of Monsters to save their friends and their home.

As far as knock-offs go, the Percy Jackson franchise is one of the more artistically successful ones. Knowing nothing of the books the films are based off, they do carry a certain charm to them that is very reminiscent of the Harry Potter films. The formula feels immediately familiar, a group of close friends consisting of the chosen one who is doubtful of his worthiness, the wise-cracking companion who fears death but constantly makes witty quips in the face of it and the beautiful but fierce would-be girlfriend of the chosen one who is smarter and stronger than any of the boys.

Part of what makes this blatant rip-off work though is that it doesn't try to hide its inspirations. Seriously, the film does little to nothing to try and separate itself from comparisons to that other fantasy franchise beyond replacing witches and wizards with Greek gods and mythological creatures. It may sound like an extremely lazy recommendation, but the truth of the matter is that if you liked the Harry Potter films, chances are you will, at the very least, enjoy the Percy Jackson films as well.

But the comparisons are only skin deep unfortunately, as Percy Jackson lacks the emotional attachments that came so easily with Harry Potter and his many companions. With two films under their belt, Percy still lacks any real personality beyond that of the expected teen angst that comes with the territory. The issue of being abandoned by his father and raised solely by his mother (who is oddly absent from this new film) seems like an eternal well to pull conflicts from for Percy to deal with, yet it is only ever used as a plot point with not even a hint of a resolution to his plight.

Harry Potter's many personal demons were often reflected in his adventures or at the very least were resolved in some form by the end of said adventure. There was growth to how he handled each new conflict and how he learned to cope with his destiny. Percy on the other hand never feels like he has anything resolved by the end of his adventures, aside from the crisis at had that is.

We see him sitting by the river attempting to talk to his father who won't answer him which seems like a perfect set up for some sort of reveal or emotional moment later. But instead we are introduced to a new member of the trio, a teenage Cyclops by the name of Tyson (Douglas Smith) who apparently is Percy's half-brother. You would think that there would be a moment or two where the two discuss their father and/or try to communicate with him together, but no.

Tyson is just another excuse for comedy relief whenever Grover isn't around. He bumbles about, makes countless mistakes (and a few heroic gestures just to remind us he is a person too), but he never becomes a real character, someone that we get to know. By the end of the film, both Percy and Tyson have saved the day (spoiler?) but haven't grown as characters. Percy still can't contact his dad, Tyson is still a buffoon and nothing it seems has changed.

At least the film comes through on the adventure aspects of the story with a journey that takes Percy and his friends across both land and sea where they encounter all sorts of creatures and dangerous perils. If it isn't an old Civil War ship run by zombies inside a giant sea monster, it is a Cyclops living on an amusement park island who likes to eat anyone who comes after his Golden Fleece. Oh, and don't forget the mechanical bull that terrorizes Camp Half-Blood.

The film has no shortage of dazzling visual effects and it's central adventure moves along at a real nice pace. Introducing new characters (including a welcome appearance by Nathan Fillion as Hermes) and creatures at a break-neck pace (the three blind witches in the cab could have been left out though), the film rarely stops long enough for the audience to catch its breath, which is also somewhat of a failing as much as it is a positive.

That is the ultimate failing of this series in general. While there is nothing inherently wrong with it, the cast is fine, the Greek mythology is interesting and it has the requisite visual wizardry to enchant audiences, it's skewed much more to a younger audience than Potter which is a problem for its future potential. Adults and children alike were able to enjoy Harry Potter, adults for the more mature story telling and children for the fantasy aspect.

That isn't the case for Percy. His adventure to recover the Golden Fleece is surprisingly danger-free most of the time. Even when he is in peril, it never feels as though anyone or anything is truly in jeopardy. There are numerous moments in the film where main characters appear to be dying or are dead where it is revealed rather quickly that they are alright every single time that really deflates any would-be tension.

In the end though, lack of interesting characters and plagiarism aside, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is still a fun diversion for young adults looking for another teen fantasy adventure filled with creatures and lots of computer effects to remind you that you are having a good time. It is a better film than the first which admittedly isn't saying much, but perhaps if we were to get a third Percy Jackson film, it will continue this trend and be a better film than this one and provide the franchise's first legitimately good film.

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