Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters
Say what you will about the "Harry Potter" series, but at least it had personality. Watching "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" - which, much like the final "Potter" films, is being shown in ugly, color-erasing, post-converted 3-D - you become consciously aware of all the faults that little wizard and his friends imbued into the house-style structure of young adult movies (and young adult books).
The labyrinth plotting, the nonsense jargon, the mini-boss battles staged as climaxes to placate fans as they wait for the next entry, the half-interested engagement with previously existing myths and legends; I can do without all of it. The "Potter" movies at least had Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson's considerable charm deployed for the sake of offsetting their unfortunate conceits. All "Percy Jackson" has is the kid from "Perks of Being A Wallflower."
That kid, Logan Lerman, is quickly introduced to series newcomers as the half-blood son of Poseidon, the product of the God's copulation with a mortal. Luckily, as in a certain other young adult serial, there's a school to help protect his kind: The evocatively named Camp Half-Blood (sigh.) Evil trolls and cyclopes are out to gobble up his half-human flesh, and that of his brethren, so a tree imbued with the spirit of Zeus' dead half-human daughter creates a force field that protects the demigod youths from danger while they're on campus. I couldn't make this stuff up.
One day the force field is weakened by a mechanical, steam-punk-looking bull. So Percy is pulled away from his mythological high school, where his biggest worry was struggling to keep up with the God of War's daughter's flirtations, and is sent off to obtain "The Golden Fleece," a magical blanket with the ability to heal any person or thing - yes, even demigod-tree-force fields.
His adventure can't help but disappoint, even if the individual encounters are good fun - there are hardly even any sea monsters. The titular beast (I know it says "Sea of Monsters," but the budget apparently only accounted for a single one) is a circular mouth full of sharp teeth, emerging from the Bermuda Triangle to swallow up our heroes. Their subsequent attempts to make their escape through the creature's stomach, full of inventive sight gags and pleasurable colors and not much else, are indicative of the zany-but-forgettable energy that director Thor Freudenthal is occasionally able to imbue into the action scenes.
He basically gives you the cinematic equivalent of a sugar rush. Satyrs, cyclops half-brothers, trolls, Stanley Tucci as yet another mentor-in-a-young-adult-story - the film shifts gears quicker than the steam punk bull. Thor swaps through more side plots in his 100-minute film than most blockbusters do in their 150, from Percy learning to accept his one-eyed brother (because tolerance,) to the sexual tension developing between him and his female equivalent, to his slow-burn rivalry with Hermes' treacherous half-human son. But the film is best when it's focused on letting its hair down, and embracing its nonsense construction: Hermes himself, for example, is found at work at UPS.
The action sequences are equally thrilling, in a "Looney Toons" sort of way. The mechanical bull is felled by Lerman after a chase sequence full of enough wacky camera movements, crass animation, and cartoon physics to put the Road Runner and Wile E. to shame. But the avatars sprinting through these sequences simply don't command attention the way the action itself does. Forget Harry Potter and Hermione Granger, there's not a single character here worthy of Ron Weasley.