The short review: A series that desperately wants to fill the fandom power vacuum left by Harry Potter, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is an enjoyable outing, but not all that glitters is Golden Fleece.
The long review: There are worse ways to spend two hours than watching Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters. This isn’t to say it’s a bad film; it’s not. It just isn’t as good as it could be, and the film’s palpable, burning desire to be Harry Potter is ultimately a glass ceiling that keeps the myth-laden adventure film from living up to its potential. That and a whole mess of daddy issues, so much so that Percy Jackson likely has a trident tramp stamp, but alas we’ll have to wait until Percy Jackson: Shores of Jersey to get confirmation.
Greek mythology is usually a guaranteed recipe for a modicum of success given its ubiquity and epic nature, and the Percy Jackson series has always been successful in putting a fun, Fables-like twist on the classic myths. They exist in parallel with our world, invisible to us Muggles or mundanes or whatever they’re going to call us, operating on the fringes of society. Percy (Logan Lerman), a demigod human son of Poseidon, lives his days at Camp Half-Blood, a phrenologically on-the-nose summer camp for demigods and satyrs run by a decidedly dour centaur (Anthony Head) and a Hawaiian shirt-clad Dionysus (Stanley Tucci) as counselor-in-chief. It’s sort of like Hogwarts for the mythically-inclined, a refugee camp protected by a magical barrier created by Thalia, daughter of Zeus, who was killed by a cyclops and gave her life to save her friends, including Percy’s love interest/partner in crime Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario).
Perhaps Sea of Monsters is a catchier title than Daddy Issues, but it would certainly be more apt, given the film’s almost singular focus on issues of belonging, Percy’s feelings of abandonment, and his crippling daddy issues that stand between him and his destiny. Compounding these issues is the introduction of Percy’s half-brother Tyson (Douglas Smith), another son of Poseidon, who happens to be half-cyclops. He’s a lovable, albeit clumsy, goofball with a distracting CG-Eye (get it?) who serves as a constant means to hammer home narrative points about the importance of family and not judging books by their covers. What follows is a game of cat and mouse between Team Percy and perennial rival Luke (Jake Abel), demigod son of Hermes turned servant of Kronos, as each one tries to stave off and unleash the apocalypse, respectively. It’s a rollicking story with plenty of exciting pit stops and set pieces along the way, but ultimately too clunky and wooden of a vessel to hold water.
Yet, being intensely cynical can be an exhausting exercise. At the end of the day, my prevailing criteria for assessing films is “Did I have a good time?” In the case of Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, the answer is “yes.” It certainly isn’t perfect, but the cast is likable enough and the film moves briskly enough to make this a worthwhile way to while away the summer hours before the heavy-handed awards season dramas flood the marketplace.