It's been three years since teenage demigod Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) last appeared in The Lightning Thief, his equivalent of Harry Potter and The Philosopher's Stone. In it, Percy learned about his mystical heritage, headed over to Camp Half-Blood (a slightly more outdoorsy Hogwarts), and headed off for his first adventure with his two new best friends. This sequel, however, Sea of Monsters, is more in-keeping with Harry Potter book 4, The Goblet of Fire.
Percy is now living a normal life, or the closest thing when you're attending a school where PE sessions resemble The Hunger Games. However, with a new heroic rival in the form of the bullying Clarissa (Leven Rambin), Percy's feeling something of a disconnect from that time he saved the world. Literally being left to mop up after the competition, Percy, suffice to say, is feeling ordinary. Which is a perfectly good point for the film to release the fire-breathing robotic minotaur.
Nope, not an forcedly elaborate metaphor after all.
Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters isn't really a film to bother with arcs: it's all about the bits and pieces. The three Fates are recast as cryptic taxi drivers (one of whom is played by Community's Yvette Nicole Brown; strange how that show's alumni keep cropping up) while Stanley Tucci (and my isn't he getting around with the YA films?) appears as an indifferent Dionysus whose more concerned with a peevish Zeus repeatedly turning his wine into water from afar.
The aforementioned taxi scene definitely takes inspiration from the Knight Bus in Alfonso Cuaron's Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (possibly the best of the series, in my opinion) and the whole thing is very much redolent of J.K. Rowling's beloved boy wizard. There are effulgent sea horses and a bickering caduceus - Nathan Fillion appears as a charming corporate Hermes who dispenses deus ex machinas (though we do get a nicely oblique Firefly shout-out).
Logan Lerman makes for a likeable lead (as he did a likeable part of the ensemble in Stuck In Love) and he gets his very own bigger, blander Draco Malfoy in the form of Jake Abel's Luke. The use of Greek mythology is cool - if nothing else, Percy Jackson provides a nice jumping-off point for introducing kids to the Classics - even if their design is a bit Hellboy-lite. Anthony Stewart Head replaces Pierce Brosnan as fusty centaur and Dumbledore substitute, Chiron.
There is a sense that the Percy Jackson franchise has resigned itself somewhat to being a second-tier fantasy series, a more child-friendly, non-puritanical Twilight. Every sacrifice is undone, there's no real character development, etc., etc. Still, it's difficult to dislike Sea of Monsters too much, though - as Norville Barnes would say, it's, y'know, for kids. When you're criticizing a film that maroons its cast in the belly of a sea monster for lack of dramatic follow-through, I dunno, maybe you're over-thinking it.
Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters gets 5 out of 10.
* Knepper is almost vocally unrecognizable outside of his Prison Break T-Bag persona, so his casting lends nothing to the film. Based on this and RIPD, he's not doing his profile any favors.