Sunday, November 29, 2015

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (20th Century-Fox, 2013)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2015 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

The film was Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, a 2013 sequel to the delightful 2010 movie Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. These films began as a series of books — I’ve never seen one so I don’t know whether they’re considered children’s or “young adult” literature — by Rick Riordan based on the conceit that the Greek gods actually exist. Not only that, but they’re still continuing their habitual practice, documented in the original myths, of descending to earth, having sex with opposite-sex mortals (I guess the target audience for these stories is too young for them to get into Ganymede territory!) and generating children, who in the first episode were called “demigods” but here are called “half-bloods.” The gods have set up a sort of boot camp for their half-human offspring during which they’re trained to be warriors, and in this episode Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman), who in the first film in the series recovered the lightning bolt with which Zeus rules the world, is training with a new recruit named Clarisse (Levan Rambin, who was deleted from the first book when it was filmed but is brought to the screen now that Katniss Everdeen in The Hunger Games has made women action heroines, especially young teen ones, fashionable; incidentally Rambin’s head shot on shows her as blonde but she wore a dark wig for her role here) who keeps beating him to the top of a peculiar contraption that’s the demigods’ version of an obstacle course but looks something like the mills in Frankenstein (the 1931 one) and White Zombie. A prologue explains that early in the demigods’ camp’s existence, four people were going there but only three made it; Zeus’s daughter Thalia (pronounced “Tah-lee-uh”) was killed by a monster just outside the gates.

To save her in at least some sort of life, Zeus turned her into a tree and gave the tree the power to protect the camp by setting up a force field around it (an obvious ripoff of the Daphne myth), only when the movie opens the force field is being attacked by a weird sort of half-bull, half-robot that can crash the force field because it too has a god in its bloodline. Thalia the tree is brought near death by this and in order to revive her, the kids have to get together to recover the Golden Fleece from the cyclops Polyphemus, who you’ll recall lost his eye to Odysseus in The Odyssey but now has regained at least some of his sight through the universal curative powers of the Fleece (which in this version is a blanket instead of a piece of sheep’s fur). Unfortunately, the bad half-blood Luke (whom I still think is far sexier than Logan Lerman!) wants the Fleece for another, more dastardly reason: to revive the Titan Cronus, who was killed by his son Zeus so Zeus could take over as master of the universe. The officials at the school for half-bloods organize an official party to look for the Fleece, but Percy, his girlfriend Annabeth (Alexandria Daddario), their Black satyr friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) — they would make the Black guy a satyr! — and Tyson (Douglas Smith), half-brother of Percy because he’s also the son of Poseidon, though his mom was a water-nymph and when you cross a god and a water nymph you get a cyclops — form their own expedition. They run into three female New York cabdrivers who have only one eye between them (“Shouldn’t the one who’s driving have the eye?” Percy rather sensibly asks) who are supposed to be the “Gray Sisters” (Mary Birdsong, Yvette Nicole Brown and Missi Pyle) and who take them as far as Washington, D.C. before the drivers realize the kids don’t have any drachmas and therefore can’t pay them. The kids end up taken to the Bermuda Triangle — the so-called “Sea of Monsters” referred to in the title — and they end up in the belly of Charybdis, a giant sea creature, only by irritating her insides they get her to puke them up again.

They still have to fight Polyphemus to get the Golden Fleece — Tyson was hoping to get Polyphemus to give it to them by talking to him cyclops-to-cyclops — and the climax takes place at an amusement park called “Circeland” (played by Jazzland, a former amusement park in New Orleans taken over by the Six Flags company and then condemned because it was so badly damaged during Hurricane Katrina — the setting of the climax in an abandoned amusement park couldn’t help but remind me of Carnival of Souls!) in which the good guys from the official and unofficial crews get together and sail to the park in an old Confederate warship, the C.S.S. Birmingham (built on the same ironclad principle as the more famous Merrimac, a.k.a. Virginia) to confront Polyphemus, get the Fleece and use it to revive Thalia — only the Fleece works too well and instead of just keeping her alive as a tree, it restores her to half-blood human status (in which she’s played by someone with the marvelously multicultural name of Paloma Kwiatkowski). Other characters include Chiron, the half-human, half-horse character who runs the school (and is played this time around by Anthony Stewart Head instead of Pierce Brosnan, who played him in the earlier film) and Dionysus, who centuries earlier made the mistake of seducing someone Zeus was also interested in and is being punished by having the wine in his glass turn to water as soon as he pours it. “You know, the Christians have a guy who can do this trick in reverse,” Dionysus says. “Now that’s a god.” Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters isn’t anywhere near as good as the earlier film in the series — which had a considerably better constructed plot (this time around Thor Friedenthal instead of Chris Columbus directed and Marc Guggenheim, not Craig Titley, wrote the script) and more genuine suspense and excitement — but it’s still a fun romp through some familiar mythology given a new and delicious “spin.”