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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Friday, Sept. 19, 2014

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In Movies & TV Reviews

Logan Lerman stars in "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters," now playing.

"Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" can't turn myths into movie magic


There's been a lot of talk in the past month or two about 2013 being the Year of the Bloated Blockbuster Bomb. Personally, I think calling 2013 the Year of the Completely Bland and Forgettable Action-Adventure Flick That Barely Makes An Impact While You're Watching It, Much Less A Day Later would be more fitting, if a bit more of a mouthful.

In case that opening paragraph didn't give it away, no, "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" isn't bucking that trend. In many ways, it's the epitome of the trend: a sequel that no one was particularly clamoring for to a film – 2010's only marginally successful "Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" – already forgotten. And if the adventures of the half-blood son of Poseidon struggled to make a splash the first time through, the sequel barely musters up a ripple.

Percy (Logan Lerman) is back at Camp Hogwarts Half-Blood (one is a camp, and one is a school. Completely different … ) with his best friends, the comic relief best friend Ron Grover and their brainiac/romantic interest Hermione Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario). He's feeling a little worthless because he hasn't saved the world in a while, and his gutsy rival Clarisse (Leven Rambin), the daughter of Ares, keeps outdoing him.

Meanwhile, his deadbeat deity dad Poseidon (Kevin McKidd in the last film) has gone AWOL. His only attempt at communication is dropping a long-lost stepbrother Tyson (Douglas Smith) on Percy's doorstep. A stepbrother who happens to be a cyclops.

There's not much time to complain, though, as the camp is under attack by Luke (Jake Abel, a completely menace-free villain), the son of Hermes, who sets a furious mechanical bull (not that kind of mechanical bull) raging through the grounds and poisons the magical tree that shields the camp from harm. Their only hope to save the tree is to find the mythical Golden Fleece in the middle of the Sea of Monsters, known to us humans as the Bermuda Triangle. Unfortunately, Luke is after it too, hoping to use it to resurrect a great evil from the past named Voldemort Kronos.

Bearded camp counselor Dionysus (Stanley Tucci, always a welcome sight) sends their finest demigod warrior after the fleece: Clarisse. And since I guess they don't have anything better to do, Percy and company take up their own search for the magical blanket. So they hop into a randomly appearing magic cab chaotically driven by some macabre supernatural entity and … wait a Muggle-loving second. That's just the Knight Bus scene from "Prisoner of Azkaban" (except a lot more shaky, over-caffeinated and shoddily put together)!

Like its predecessor, there's very little in "Sea of Monsters" that doesn't feel derivative or borrowed, namely from a certain wizard-focused character whose name rhymes with Barry Fotter. And actually, I'd be fine with a Harry Potter knock-off (even an unapologetic one like this) if it was a good bit of imaginative fun. After all, it's got a whole world of mythical creatures and roaring gods to play with.

Unfortunately, screenwriter Marc Guggenheim (previously a writer on the disastrous "Green Lantern") and the aptly named director Thor Freudenthal manage to take all of those raging, ill-tempered deities and beasts that form the background of "Percy Jackson" and funnel them into something about as magical and compelling as a history textbook.

They've got good performers on hand, both young and old. None of them are working at the top of their game (it's hard not to expect more from Lerman after his breakthrough in last year's "Perks of Being a Wallflower") but Lerman and Daddario are still appealing leads, and the veterans (Tucci, Nathan Fillion as Hermes, who works – wait for it – at UPS) bring some brief but blessed energy to the proceedings.

There's just nothing interesting for them to do. The story flips exclusively between a sea's worth of tedious expositional mumbo jumbo clumsily explaining the mythical world (the word "prophecy" gets tossed around a lot, which is my cue to stop caring) and visually uninteresting CGI-heavy action scenes. I don't usually bother mentioning the 3-D, but here it only makes the film's visuals look drabber.

Even with all of the hectic creature-laden fights, besides a sequence set inside a Charybdis (think a watery version of a sarlacc), Freudenthal doesn't come up with much in terms of magic or excitement. At one point, there's a mythical packing tape dispenser. Oh, the wonder.

It's fitting the climax of "Sea of Monsters" takes place at an amusement park because the film plays like a roller coaster, and not even a particularly good one at that. It's well-worn and thrill-less, and it stops every 20 seconds to dully explain its mechanics before heading back into its generic, rickety commotion.

Maybe Percy has a right to be down on himself and low on his own abilities at the beginning of the film. He's had two movies now, but he's still nothing more than just another hero.



Theaters and showtimes for Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
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