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Film review: Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters **

By Preston Wilder

After much trial and error, hours spent logging films about superheroes, wizards, magical gewgaws and really big monsters, even more hours of jotting down my reactions only to be faced by irate acquaintances going ‘Really? You liked that?’, I’ve finally realised what my problem is: I don’t take them seriously. Don’t get me wrong: I often enjoy such films – but I seem to be lacking that gene that gets deeply caught up in tales of fantasy and imagination, then discusses whether such-and-such a thing could REALLY HAPPEN after leaving the cinema. I don’t care about plausibility when it comes to this stuff, I don’t care about special effects, and I especially don’t care about po-faced ‘quests’ that take years to unfold. I care about having fun, which usually involves a sense of humour.

That’s why I seem to like Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters more than most people – and much more than I liked its predecessor, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief three years ago. “Could Percy Jackson be the long-lost offspring of Poseidon, God of the Sea, and therefore not an ordinary teenager but in fact a Greek demi-god?” I asked rhetorically in the review of that film. “Maybe that’s why a deep, stentorian voice occasionally creeps into his thoughts, saying things like: ‘Be prepared! Everything is about to change, Percy!’.” Deep stentorian voices are conspicuously absent in this sequel, which instead deals mostly in a flippant, smart-aleck lightness. If the first film was Harry Potter, this one edges closer to Pirates of the Caribbean.

The plot is still Potter-esque, of course, the Very Special Boy being Percy (Logan Lerman) who is indeed the son of Poseidon hence a Greek demi-god; he goes to Camp Half-Blood (Hogwarts for freaks like himself) and has already saved the world once, though he now worries that it might’ve been a one-off. “I’m wondering if I’m prophecy-worthy,” he frets – at least till things go wrong (again) and he sets off in search of the Golden Fleece accompanied by his sidekicks from the first film, Grover who’s actually a satyr and Annabeth who’s the daughter of Athena, goddess of wisdom (not that she does anything especially wise in the course of the movie). Also on hand is his new half-brother Tyson, who’s a Cyclops hence a freak shunned even by the other freaks – and of course the film’s implied message is tolerance for those who are different (Percy himself has dyslexia), though that message is watered down slightly by the fact that Tyson looks normal for most of the running-time, Annabeth supplying a magical spray that transforms his unsightly one eye into two eyes. Clearly a bit of a cop-out, then again two hours of being “ocularly impaired” must be hell on the CGI budget.

Do our heroes encounter a ‘sea of monsters’? Not really, though they run into the Charybdis and find themselves in its stomach, Pinocchio-style (any similarity to the Charybdis mentioned in The Odyssey is purely coincidental). Fantasy geeks will be bitterly disappointed by Sea of Monsters, but I didn’t mind – after all it features Stanley Tucci as Dionysus (the students call him “Mr. D.”), sadly sampling bottles of wine which vengeful Zeus has turned to water, and it also features lines like “Rome wasn’t built in a day. Trust me, I was there” (spoken by Nathan Fillion, who gets an amusing cameo as Hermes). Not to mention the “Chariot of Damnation” which turns out to be a New York cab driven by a trio of blind old witches, or the bickering snakes on Hermes’ staff, or the sailor saying “Aye aye” then looking embarrassed to see Tyson there. ‘Eye’, get it? One eye? Because he’s a Cyclops, do you get it?

Some of the monsters are okay, especially a rampaging bull with mechanical innards and a bat-faced baboon thing with sharp teeth and a scorpion-like stinger. Hardcore critics looking for themes may wonder about the significance of all the eating (both a giant Cyclops and the resurrected Cronos like to stuff their faces with human meat), and may also point out how the film is dominated by dysfunctional father-son relationships – but the film’s true calling lies in likeably cheesy moments like the villain lamenting how hard it was to get hold of a magical thingummyjig: “I had to crawl through the depths of Tartarus itself. And Cleveland!”. Save some tedium for the inevitable sequel, I grumbled three years ago – but now the sequel’s here, and it’s not so tedious (albeit also not very good). If you take such films seriously, Sea of Monsters will probably make you angry. But I don’t, so I quite enjoyed it.

 

DIRECTED BY Thor Freudenthal

STARRING Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Douglas Smith

US 2013                       106 mins

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