Thursday, August 8, 2013

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013)

I guess I spoke too soon about August surprising me so far.  Here comes a sequel nobody was asking for to a movie that barely anyone remembers.  I honestly almost forgot there was a first Percy Jackson film.  I can barely recall a single detail about it, other than I didn't care for it.  You might wonder why I even bothered seeing Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters.  Well, what else am I going to do on a Wednesday night?  Plus I'm a nerd for any kind of fantasy film.  I still went into this with an open mind, 'cause you never know, it might be a pleasant surprise.  Sometimes a sequel can be an improvement, especially when the first wasn't that good.

Sea of Monsters figures the audience didn't remember the first Percy Jackson film either, as there's a brief narration that sets the story up.  However, if you're going to open with someone narrating, you might want to encourage the lead actor to not read it like he's bored, which is how Logan Lerman sounded.  Better yet, get Anthony Stewart Head to class it up by reading it, since he plays Chiron.  I don't remember "Giles" being in the first film, and it turns out he wasn't.  Chiron was played by Pierce Brosnan last time.  Outside of the primary trio, I don't think there's a single returning actor from the first film, which is a shame because if you go back and look at the cast list, it's star-studded.

This is going to be spoiler-ridden, by the way...

We come back to Camp Half-Blood to catch up with Percy and friends.  There's some weird "capture the flag meets king of the hill" game they're playing that only seems to establish that Clarisse (Leven Rambin), daughter of Ares, is extremely competitive with Percy.  She's practically a bully, but Percy tries to take the high ground with her.  I don't think it's any coincidence that Percy is very similar to "pussy".  Anyway, Percy is introduced to his half-brother, Tyson (Douglas Smith), who's a cyclops.  Tyson kind of looks like young-Brendan Fraser in Encino Man, which was all I could think about anytime I saw him.  I guess being a cyclops is bad because Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) hates him with a passion simply because he is one.

After an attack on the camp by a robot-bull-transformer-thing, they learn that the tree that protects the camp with a magical force field has been poisoned, leaving the camp vulnerable.  However, since nobody seems to have been seriously hurt in the attack, this doesn't seem like that much of a threat.  The only thing that can heal the tree is the Golden Fleece, which is in the Sea of Monsters, otherwise known to us as the Bermuda Triangle.  There's a prophecy that Percy is destined to either save or destroy Olympus, so he, Annabeth, Tyson and Grover the Satyr (Brandon T. Jackson) embark on a quest to recover the Fleece.  Another demigod, Luke (Jake Abel, who might as well be called young-Kevin Bacon), who I guess was presumed dead, also wants the Fleece.  He needs it to resurrect Kronos, the father of Zeus, Hades and Poseidon.  You still with me?

One thing I couldn't get out of my head at the beginning of the film is that this camp is full of the half-blood children of Olympian gods.  Are they all deadbeat dads?  They just go around spraying their seed everywhere and then ditching the mothers.  Classy.  A running subplot in the film is that Percy has been trying to communicate with his father, Poseidon, only to never get any response.  Later in the film when they catch up with Hermes (Nathan Fillion), he reveals that he's Luke's father, but not that he's Darth Vader, which would have been awesome.  He tells Percy to tell Luke to apologize for not being around and not to be angry at the world for his mistakes.  Hermes is too busy to tell him?  Later on, even Luke asks why Hermes couldn't tell him directly.  So yeah, the Olympian gods are terrible fathers.  Fillion's appearance was the highlight of the film though, and I would have totally given the whole thing a pass if anyone would have called him "Darth" as a joke.  "Will you deliver this message to my son, Luke?"  "I'll be sure to let him know, Darth."

I said earlier that the protective shield going down didn't feel like that much of a threat, and that's probably one of the biggest problems with Sea of Monsters.  There's no urgency at all to this quest, and you don't feel that there are any real stakes.  Any mistake is immediately corrected, and nobody dies or sustains any permanent injury, so it never feels like there are any consequences.  Finally, we reach the climax and Kronos swallows a character whole.  For a second I thought things were about to get real, but then a good guy is swallowed and you already know that they're both going to come out okay.  Plus, the power of the Fleece was to heal anything.  Moments later, Annabeth is stabbed while they are still in possession of the Fleece, yet they still go through the exercise of pretending she dies?  We know the Fleece is going to bring her back.  It's all pointless.

While on this quest, they always seemed to be winging it without any distinct plan.  There are a few times Percy leaps into action only to quickly find that he's backed into a corner without any way out.  How do you plan on getting out of this, Percy?  He always does though, sometimes being saved by some random object or character that you had no idea was anywhere around.  Then you see that Percy has really powerful control over the ocean, and I had to wonder why he didn't just lead with that.  If you have that kind of power, why not use it right up front?

Based on the acting, it didn't seem like anyone cared about the film.  Everyone feels like they are going through the motions.  Then again, there's no real depth or growth to the characters, and they are generally uninteresting.  Percy spends much of the film wondering if he's good enough or strong enough, but this is just kind of glossed over with any defining moment.  Besides Nathan Fillion, the other bright spot was Stanley Tucci, but he's always great.  He has a running gag of forgetting everyone's name, which was the only thing I found humorous about the movie.  Then again, maybe he forgot everyone's name because he didn't want to be there either and didn't bother memorizing them.

I can't blame the cast for not being all that invested when having to recite such awful, lifeless dialog.  This is some of the worst dialog I've seen in a while.  All the attempts at humor fall flat, and it's irritating because there were times where you could hear a funnier version of something said in your head, or imagine that a slightly different character reaction would have made all the difference.  I wonder how long ago Marc Guggenheim wrote this screenplay and why they didn't bring someone in to try and punch it up.  There's nothing clever or witty about it at all.  This is the guy that wrote Green Lantern though, so that might tell you something.

The special effects varied from decent looking to really awful.  The budget was around $90 million, so I guess it's passable for what they had to work with.  Some of the visual effects were for things that had no real point.  The aforementioned bull seemed to only exist in the movie because they really wanted to have a Transformer for the kids.  Some of the centaur and satyr effects were painful to look at.  There's a giant cyclops at the end that looked like something that would have barely been passable in a TV movie, or something that came out ten years ago.  I'd say the best effect were how unnaturally blue they got Alexandra Daddario's eyes to look, but those are all hers.  How is she not a bigger star?  Would someone please put her in something decent?

Ultimately, this is a kid's film and I could see my nephews really enjoying it.  I'm just disappointed that this didn't strive for something more.  You can make a fantasy film that appeals to more than just kids.  Director Thor Freudenthal (yes, Thor) has only directed kid's films up to this point and you can tell.  There are parts of the film that I can't imagine any adult enjoying, like the cab scene, which I found extremely irritating.  It's mercifully only about and hour and forty minutes, so I wasn't completely bored with it or caught myself checking my watch.

It's not so bad that I was angry, but Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is a dated, lame movie that felt like something that should have gone direct to video or would have been better suited to TV.  The story and characters give you nothing to care about, and I can't recommend anything about it.  It's harmless, but little more than eye candy for kids.  I'd advise you to pass it, but it's safe enough to rent for your kids at some point.  Don't waste your hard earned money to see this in the theater, or you might encourage them to make another, and they teased another sequel at the end.  Don't do it!

1.5 (out of 5) Death Stars

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