“Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters,” the second film based on Rick Riordan’s immensely popular books about a dyslexic boy who discovers he’s a demigod, may make some moviegoers feel like they’ve stepped into an actual Greek myth – one that banishes them to the underworld for nearly two hours.
Well, maybe not quite the underworld, since a trip down there presumably wouldn’t feature droll quips from Stanley Tucci and Nathan Fillion, who play small but enjoyable supporting roles in this desperately-trying-to-be-epic adventure. But even likable actors can’t obscure the fact that, holy gods on Mount Olympus, this thing is a slog, a movie that dutifully hits its plot points involving prophecies and fleeces without evoking a whiff of spirit or imagination.
It’s a shame that the millions of readers who fell in love with Riordan’s classic-meets-contemporary children’s stories have been handed such limp adaptations of the material. The first, 2010’s “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” – directed by Chris Columbus, who leeched some but not all, of the life out of the first two Harry Potter movies – was respectable but dull, while “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters,” as directed by Thor Freudenthal (“Diary of a Wimpy Kid”), is both dull and awkwardly executed. It’s less a theatrical release than a Disney Channel special that got dressed up in CGI clothes and was shoved into a multiplex.
Like its predecessor, this “Percy” sends its teen hero, played by the likable Logan Lerman, on a quest, this time one that requires him to obtain the coveted Golden Fleece in order to restore life to a dying tree that protects Camp Half-Blood from evil forces. (Camp Half-Blood, for those who missed the first movie or the books, is the training facility-safe haven for offspring of one Greek god parent and one mere mortal. That includes Percy, son of a human mom, and Poseidon.)
Operation Fleece Pick-up inevitably puts Percy and his band of Zeussian friends in contact with (duh) some massive beasts beneath the sea. It also briefly zips them through the District of Columbia – or rather Vancouver with a digitally inserted U.S. Capitol jammed in the middle of it – in what qualifies as one of the most laughably inaccurate cinematic portrayals of our nation’s capital in the history of moviedom.
The special effects look clunky and unrealistic, whether they involve depicting the mammoth maw that is Charybdis or the single eye on the forehead of Tyson (Douglas Smith), a cyclops and half-brother to Percy who makes his first appearance here. Perhaps recognizing that the eye looks a little off (or lacking the budget to make it look on all the time), the filmmakers frequently mask it with a pair of sunglasses. The result: The moppy-headed fellow son of Poseidon spends most of the movie looking like Brendan Fraser in “Encino Man.”
But even Tyson is more pleasant-looking than the cab-driving Gray Sisters (Mary Birdsong, Yvette Nicole Brown and Missi Pyle), who also share a single eye but spew groan-inducing lines (“Oh no, we didn’t!”) that confirm that even the attempts at comedy in “Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters” can’t hit the right notes.
Well, that’s not entirely true. Fillion gets the one genuinely funny piece of dialogue in the movie, but it’s one that fans of his old TV show, “Firefly,” are most likely to get. Presumably, they won’t be coming to this movie. And, in case this wasn’t clear, fans of the Percy Jackson books shouldn’t bother either.