Some sequels arrive in cinemas with so much buzz and chatter attached to them that it’s hard not to be disappointed with the eventual experience, but there are others that arrive without the slightest bit of fanfare or, well, interest. Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters seems to belong to the latter camp, and benefits from the complete lack of preconception or expectation from anyone other than hardcore fans of the book series on which the film series is based. It’s the first sequel to 2010’s Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief, but have the intervening years fostered something a bit more interesting?
Yes and no, as whatever the movie gains from the distance between it and the Harry Potter movies, the abundant parallels take away again. A boy hero and his co-ed companions (the guy comic relief, the girl a smarty-pants) go after a magical object – the Golden Fleece – which is their only hope for the survival of their communal home. It’s hard not to see Harry, Ron and Hermione doing the same thing to much more entertaining and dramatic effect, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that Percy doesn’t have enough of its own merit to stand alone.
The plot, as outlined above, is pleasingly simple. Percy (Logan Lerman) and his friends Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) and Grover (Brandon T Jackson) take it upon themselves to go out and find magical healing object, the Golden Fleece, from the deadly sea of monsters, despite the mission being given to rival Clarisse. You see, Percy has just been told by mentor Chiron (Anthony Head, replacing Pierce Brosnan) that he is destined to grapple for the fleece with established villain Luke (Jake Abel), who causes the original problem when he breaks into Camp Half-blood and poisons their prized tree (grown from Annebeth, Grover and Luke’s old friend, Thalia).
The sequel has shed almost all of its big names and boasts just three notable adult characters, played by Anthony Head, Stanley Tucci and Nathan Fillion. All of them have only a couple of scenes to play with, and the rest of the film rests on the young stars’ shoulders. This makes the confident and easily-heroic performance of Lerman even more impressive, and I can’t help but think that the three-year break between movies is the best thing that could have happened. Despite the downsides, the time has allowed Lerman to bypass those awkward years as well as star in credible indie Perks Of Being A Wallflower. He’s better than the material, and this doesn’t hurt the film.
The problem with Sea Of Monsters, then, is the lack of anything new to say about either Percy or the world he lives in. It’s a potential fascinating and problematic scenario, with our hero effectively a modern-day bastard child abandoned by his dad, Poseidon, and shunned by the outside world. Maybe the psychological problems of this are explored in later books? He even gets a half-brother this time, but spends his time denying their relation due to Tyson’s unsightly single eye. Tyson is treated quite badly by our heroes and, even though he eventually proves his worth and saves the day a couple of times, it feels like an outdated plot point that isn’t entirely necessary.
But repetition is never as much of an annoyance for younger viewers and, despite the increased age of Percy and his friends, this is still a film aimed squarely at under-12s. It hurtles along at an admirable pace, with the next dazzling action sequence never too far away and the 106-minute running time never drags. The film, just by being itself, is quite nostalgic for fans of these action-adventure children’s movies that seem to have died out in favour of gritty young adult apocalypse movies like The Hunger Games and the upcoming Ender’s Game, and vast improvements have been made since the series’ first outing.
It won’t necessarily inspire a resurgence in the children’s adventure fantasy sub-genre (or even another instalment), but it’s a well-put together stab at a sequel to a film that had the odds stacked against it in Potter’s heyday. There’s great action, laughs that seemed to land well with the target audience in my screening, and a leading man we should be watching very closely.
Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters is out on the 7th August in the UK.
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