Fantasy, Reviews

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Percy Jackson

Copyright © 2013 by 20th Century Fox

Story
Set after the events from the first book, Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is still trying to cope with life and training in Camp Half-Blood. Other than his heroic turn in his previous escapade, he has been merely average in camp and is constantly undermined by the more superior Clarisse La Rue (Leven Rambin), the offspring of Ares. When the camp’s protective force is weakened, guarded by Thalia, daughter of Zeus who was preserved as a tree after sacrificing herself in a prior incident, the trio consisting of Percy, Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) decide to save the poisoned tree by setting out on a journey to retrieve the Golden Fleece which is powerful enough to cure and even resurrect anything or anyone it comes into contact with. Meanwhile, Percy learns of another imminent doom approaching concocted by an old foe that requires the fleece’s magical properties as well.

Review
When it was announced that the follow-up to ‘Lightning Thief’ had been green lit to grace our screens this year with a new director, screen writer and supporting cast, I was fairly optimistic that the outcome should be better than its predecessor. After all, ‘Lightning Thief’ was enjoyably fun and successfully paved the way for subsequent adventures to come. The gross taking may not have been as gargantuan as anticipated for its first outing but under the reins of Thor Freudenthal who previously helmed another book-to-movie franchise, ‘Diary of a Wimpy Kid’ from Fox as well, the producers are definitely hoping for the tide to turn.

While the earnings are still not final, it is expected that ‘Sea of Monsters’ will outperform the original (although US takings are significantly lower). For fans of the books, it is a sign to rejoice as the next chapter of Percy’s life has been set for a 2015 release. I really do hope that third time is a charm for this flagging series as the best I can say about this sophomore effort is its juvenile fun. When we were first introduced to Percy, we got to know about his medical condition and how it affected his overall well-being. This was followed with many well-known Greek legends, all carefully placed throughout the film to keep it staying afloat.

The novelty for this concept is infamous Greek mythologies are given a modern spin which was the strength in his previous quest. It is not only lacking in the sequel but what makes it even more unmemorable is the introduction to too many original and inconsequential characters. The ones who do stand out, Clarisse and Tyson (Douglas Smith), their character expositions are still under developed and feel forced. Just on appearance alone, Tyson, Percy’s one-eyed half-brother especially, could have given the much needed emotional core to an otherwise very hollow film. Another missed opportunity is on Jake Abel’s main antagonist, Luke who emerges only in a handful of scenes does not resonate enough for the audience to believe his rage towards his father and motivations for unleashing a force of terror into the world.

The saving grace for this feature comes only from seasoned character actors Stanley Tucci and Nathan Fillion who do not disappoint in their comical but brief interpretations as Dionysus and Hermes respectively. So heavily underused, their scenes are by far the best in the movie. If more screen time has been allocated for Hermes to reconcile with Luke, it would have provided the quieter moments reminiscent to Percy’s unresolved daddy issues a while back. As the entire story hinges on Percy to once again save the day, Lerman’s take on this underdog this time around is more self-assured and expressive than he was three years ago.

If only the rest of his fellow young actors could follow suit, the sequel could have turn a notch higher artistically and not relegated to just a cash-grab from the powers-that-be. It does not help either that the action sequences feels like they are too hastily conceived and the overall scope of the climax is not befitting of an epic battle with the King of Kings. A word of advice, less is always more; so instead of barraging the audience with lots of CG to conceal its inadequacies, why not present a better written and polished script to justify its leap to the big screen? You do not need any Golden Fleece to heal its ‘sickly’ state. What it needs is an auteur to zap the series right back on its Olympian track.

Rating
Entirety: B
Acting: B+
Plot: B

Rated PG for fantasy action violence, some scary images and mild language

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Fantasy, Reviews

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Percy Jackson

Copyright © 2010 by 20th Century Fox

Story
Based on a series of books by Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief introduces audiences to Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman), the titular character who seems to be dyslexic and has the ability to be underwater for a substantial amount of time. It is later revealed that he is a demigod, son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), Lord of the Sea. When he is accused of stealing Zeus’ (Sean Bean) lightning bolt, he becomes a target of Hades (Steve Coogan), brother to Zeus and Poseidon, wanting the bolt for himself to wage war against his brothers who made him keeper of the Underworld as punishment for prior wrongdoings. Thinking that Percy has the bolt, Hades holds his mother, Sally (Catherine Keener) hostage but he is unfazed by this ordeal and along with his best friend, Grover Underwood (Brandon T. Jackson) and rival turned ally, Annabeth Chase (Alexandra Daddario), they orchestrate a daring rescue mission to free Sally from the Underworld.

Review
During its release, the only thing making waves for ‘The Lightning Thief’ was the constant comparison that it was another ‘Harry Potter’ wannabe but devoid of all the awe, charm and fun that made the bespectacled wizard’s adventures the most successful series as of now. In its defence, Percy Jackson is based on a series of bestselling books combining the modern day era with Greek mythology interwoven seamlessly into new and original stories. It is pretty unfair to be so critical when the main differences outweigh some of the similarities shared by both of these boy wonders.

Sure Harry and Percy don’t fit in well with the in-crowd, discover they are more than meets the eye and are privileged enough to be in magical learning institutions where they are frequently aided by two loyal friends in all their otherworldly quests bestowed upon them. But the latter is also a half-god and son of one of the Big Three in Mount Olympus. The potential for compelling Greek tales given a fresh twist is limitless. And in his film debut, we are introduced to many classic characters revisited in a more contemporary context.

Even though Percy’s age has been revised for an older skewing crowd (and a few other tweaks from the book), retaining the idea that Percy is dyslexic provides a medical angle rarely seen in films of this sort. Viewers are briefly notified to the issues faced if such a condition is not detected early, can prove to be a challenging road ahead in the later stages for development in learning. Nevertheless, such disability can transpire as one’s strength instead and be used to combat evil.

It turns out that Percy’s dyslexia manifested from his Grecian lineage and he can interpret Greek very fluently. The message is reinforced in his best friend, Grover and Latin teacher, Mr. Brunner (Pierce Brosnan) whom appear to be disabled but are in fact his mythical protectors. Grover, played to impeccable comic timing by Jackson is a satyr charged in guarding Percy’s wellbeing while Mr. Brunner / Chiron, a centaur leads all training in Camp Half-Blood, a facility for demigod children to nurture their extraordinary gifts, which Percy joins after an incident with a Fury during a school trip to the local museum. The film does fall into conventional terrain for a bit, but picks up the pace when the three friends leave the camp for the Underworld.

After encountering Medusa (played to perfection by Uma Thurman) at an old garden centre to retrieve the first pearl (there are another two the trio are required to obtain which culminate to a very exciting showdown with Hades), the story’s irregularities are improved considerably with well-timed action pieces and pop references sprinkled throughout the remaining of the film. One does wonder on the children’s arithmetic skills though. If the mission is to rescue Sally from the Underworld and each pearl can only transport a single living person out of Hades’ domain, shouldn’t they be searching for a forth one?

Aside from this goof (or is it?), it is no biggie if you have the King of Mount Olympus on your side. In fact, it is quite a shame that many of his allies and foes alike do not get more than just mere minutes of screen time as there are numerous performances that deserved mention. Other than Thurman’s wickedly delightful screen persona, Coogan and Rosario Dawson are certainly having a ball as the Underworld lord and his long suffering wife, Persephone. Their interactions remind us of a bickering married couple who have lost the spark to love. Equally memorable depictions of Percy’s parents are fully realised by McKidd, Keener and Joe Pantoliano who plays the stepfather.

How does fairly newcomer Lerman hold up against these seasoned but underrated thespians? Let’s just say, he gets to showcase more dramatic depth in another teen angst movie based on a widely read book by a certain Stephen Chbosky. Nonetheless, it is still a good effort. It also sums up Percy’s leap to the big screen. The presentation from Chris Columbus is uneven but the parts that do stand out indicate there is hope for Poseidon’s progeny to create bigger tidal waves in his next Greek voyage.

Rating
Entirety: B+
Acting: B+
Plot: B+

Rated PG for action violence and peril, some scary images and suggestive material, and mild language

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