I used to work at a bookstore during the time the Harry Potter books were still being published. They were ubiquitous bestsellers, nearly taking up the entire teen/fantasy shelves both because they were huge hardcover books but also because kids kept buying them and we frantically restocked them at lightning speed. They’re modern kids’ classics for good reason – they’re actually well written and heartfelt tales that deserve every accolade you could possible throw at them. Then a curious, economically feasible thing happened: Harry Potter knock-offs began appearing on shelves as that saga drew to a close as a way to capitalize in the Hogwarts-sized hole in the little kiddies’ fantasy-series-loving hearts. Enter Percy Jackson and a nine-book series of Greek mythology-based adventure stories that are such an obvious Harry Potter surrogate that I think JK Rowling could submit some legitimate legal claims of plagiarism. Now in Hollywood’s desperate search for the next adolescent fantasy movie franchise in the wake of the Harry Potter films’ epic financial, critical, and artistic success comes this desultory Percy Jackson sequel that nobody really wanted, and it shows.
I don’t want to beat a dead centaur here, but pointing out a few basic examples of just how badly the—ahem—mythology of this series rips off Rowling’s ingenious world points to the undermining and shameless problem with Percy Jackson. There are the three main characters with one of them as some sort of chosen one, they all convene at a magical camp, they have an wise and magical leader, and they even drink a special drink only known to their kind: Harry, Ron, and Hermione…check; Hogwarts…check; Dumbledore… check; Butterbeer, check. The point is that we’ve seen this all before and it was done so much better, and I’m not just talking about the books.
Director Chris Columbus—who himself charmingly directed the debut Potter film—tried valiantly to construct this new cinematic franchise with 2010’s Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, and though that made a healthy chunk of change he bowed out at the right time and the reins for Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters were unfortunately passed to the aptly named kids’ movie director-for-hire Thor Freudenthal. Keep in mind the second director to take over the Harry Potter franchise, for what it’s worth, was none other than the one and only Alfonso Cuarón.
In this installment, Percy Jackson (the demigod son of Poseidon and played by the achingly boring Logan Lerman) and his friends are attacked at Camp Half-Blood that was supposed to be surrounded by an unbreakable force field. To fix the barrier, Percy and his friends Grover (a satyr played by Brandon T. Jackson who will undoubtedly look back on this role as the most embarrassing thing he’s ever done, and yes I’m counting Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son), Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario who wanders through every scene with a dead-eyed look and an unsettlingly goofy smile), and Percy’s newfound brother who is a Cyclops named Tyson (played by Douglas Smith whose full embrace of the role makes me think he’s the only person who knows how bad of a movie he’s in) must go on a quest to find the mythical Golden Fleece and restore the barrier before it falls into the clutches of Percy’s rival Luke (played by Jake Abel, who delivers each line in a confused stupor as if he just woke up and doesn’t know where he is).
Everything to be found here is either overly conventional or completely fake looking with countless illogical plot details that can’t be saved by the story’s magical premise. Its many moments meant to inspire wonder crumble under clumsy execution, and its treatment of dramatically important situations devolves into undemanding pap that diminish the themes it’s trying to easily get across to its YA audience. Perhaps the worst part of this movie is how Percy Jackson fails to be the type of heroic character that kids would want to aspire to be; he’s just simply boring and this movie is too.