Of all the unabashed rip-offs of “Harry Potter,” “Percy Jackson” has perhaps the most potential. It already incorporates a deep, fascinating mythos — one that author Rick Riordan didn’t have to make up, either.
By JON NICCUM
Special to The Star
With the sequel “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters,” the franchise encounters the same advantages and pitfalls of comparable followup “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.” There’s less exposition, more action, too many characters, a darker tone and a murkier plot. Fortunately, a few key performances and some stellar visual effects make this teen fantasy a passable time-waster.
The talented Logan Lerman (“The Perks of Being a Wallflower”) returns as Percy, who only recently learned he’s the son of Greek sea god Poseidon. While continuing his training at Camp Half-Blood, the sanctuary gets attacked and its organic defenses damaged. To restore the dying haven, Percy must lead a team to retrieve the regenerative-powered golden fleece.
He is again joined by Athena’s daughter Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) and satyr Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) — both played without a hint of charisma. He also allies with newcomer Tyson (the affable Douglas Smith), a cyclops who claims to be another child of Poseidon. This latest addition doesn’t sit well with the others (or with any geneticists who might be watching), as they consider the cyclops race to be dumb and dangerous.
“I think the politically correct term is ocularly impaired,” Percy offers.
Director Thor Freudenthal — whose name sounds more suited for a Norse mythology project — stages a terrific opening battle involving a bronze, fire-breathing bull. As this mechanical nightmare tramples everything in view, it points out how overmatched Percy and company are when they encounter anything that can’t be skewered with a sword.
The action pieces get more inconsistent as the movie progresses. An encounter with the whirlpool creature Charybdis is nifty. A fight with the cyclops Polyphemus proves dull. This all leads to yet another Hollywood showdown between heroes and a towering digital menace. What once seemed awe-inspiring is now exhaustingly commonplace.
Despite Freudenthal’s experience on “Diary of a Wimpy Kid,” he struggles most with the comic relief. A hyper-fast taxi (look familiar, “Potter” fans?) driven by three witches who share one eye is so tonally out of place it belongs in a different flick. Likewise, a staff held by Hermes (Nathan Fillion, poking fun at his “Firefly” past) features serpent heads that trade insults, none of which lands a laugh.
The “Sea of Monsters” plot doesn’t hold together like 2010’s “Percy Jackson” & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.” (At least they streamlined the title for this installment.) Many scenes follow the “National Treasure” template where the heroes find something valuable, only to have the villains come along and steal it. This introduces a lot of pointless running around for both parties. Couldn’t the mysterious villain have simply sent his bronze bull to wreck Polyphemus’ lair to steal the fleece?
When creating a complicated fantasy world, it’s essential everyone’s actions make sense within the established rules of the environment. The Harry Potter series managed this. Percy Jackson is still figuring it out. Apparently, it’s all Greek to him.