“Dead camper walking”
Much like he did on Harry Potter, director Chris Columbus ushered Rick Riordan‘s young adult world of demigods to film with sure-handed exposition and a fun flair for the fantastical—if not necessarily visual excitement. The Lightning Thief introduced its hero Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) just as he became aware of his true identity and the power at his disposal. A sprawling adventure followed with he and companions Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) wherein a plethora of Greek myths got thrown our way in an updated, minimalist fashion to educate and entertain. But as their quest came to a close with victory, the subsequent installments were set up to contain a sharper focus on a prophecy believed to be Percy’s to fulfill—one where he either saves or damns Mt. Olympus.
Three years of production later with Marc Guggenheim adapting and Thor Freudenthal directing, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters hit theaters to the surprise of even those who enjoyed the first like me. Now that Medusa, a Minotaur, and a Hydra have been defeated and Percy is finally entrenched in Camp Half-Blood, the series can continue with less import on our world and more on his. Rather than stick to his past and the circumstances that created this secret life, Riordan has found space to delve deeper into the universe’s darker possibilities for the future. The time to start what the Fates have written begins as things work towards an eventual final battle between a human offspring of the Big Three (Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades) and Hermes’ boy Luke (Jake Abel) for their species’ survival.
Similar to the first story, Percy, Grover, and Annabeth take it upon themselves to save the day with or without the explicit permission of their elders—Stanley Tucci‘s Dionysus and Anthony Stewart Head‘s Chiron (replacing Pierce Brosnan). A tree grown seven years ago out of Zeus’ human daughter Thalia’s dead body protects the Demigods’ training ground, yet now lays poisoned and weak. A quest for the mythic Golden Fleece becomes their best chance of saving it, but star athlete Clarisse (Leven Rambin) and physically superior satyr Tereus (Connor Dunn) are obviously more flash than hero. To ensure everything goes as planned, though, our trio of big hearts decides to provide some backup. The fleece’s involvement is what pushes Percy to volunteer because it’s the object the prophecy states will be fought over.
Contrasting Lighting Thief‘s scavenger hunt storyline, this journey towards the Sea of Monsters is much more direct. While keeping the plot a simpler A to B, however, it doesn’t negate a new, eccentric bunch of periphery characters from turning up for comic relief and assistance. We get the taxicab driving Graeae (Mary Birdsong, Yvette Nicole Brown, and Missi Pyle); an entrepreneurial Hermes (Nathan Fillion) with the sort of sardonic humor the actor is loved for; and a giant beast eerily reminiscent to Return of the Jedi‘s Sarlacc. Along with them is a clumsy, idealistic Cyclops named Tyson (Douglas Smith) as well as contemporized versions of legends like the lotus-eaters, Circe, Polyphemus, and Percy’s grandfather Kronos. Updating them with Las Vegas casinos and Bermuda Triangle amusement parks keep things fresh and relevant for the audience.
Harry Potter comparisons continue as a contingent of evil Demigods forms to support Kronos’ resurrection much like the Death Eaters did Voldemort’s and Head’s underused Chiron skews closer to an intellectual Dumbledore-type than the warrior Brosnan’s appeared to be in the first. The Gods take a backseat to the action with Mt. Olympus physically absent and Percy finds himself growing into the leader we know he must in order to live up to everyone’s lofty expectations. New alliances are made, the Demigod army is expanded, and Luke’s reasoning for breaking free of the Half-Blood camp starts to come into better focus. A few years of enhanced computer graphics technology also allow for the mythical creatures to be rendered more realistically and a climactic scene of fire and brimstone less cartoony than it could have been.
That said, no matter how much darker the tone than Lightning Thief, Sea of Monsters is still every bit as targeted towards a Middle School viewer. This doesn’t make it tiresome or below older audiences, though, it just means the jokes and dialogue is a bit broader than you may wish. But these are kids taking on more responsibility than anyone their age should, so those calling it a distraction should have done better research on what they were getting themselves into. The series wears its demographic on its sleeve yet finds a way to do so intelligently and worth the big screen treatment and medium-sized budget. Lerman and Daddario evolve their characters’ maturity nicely, Jackson retains his goofy appeal, and the new roles fill in the gap. Hopefully that’s enough to keep them coming.
 (left-right) Tyson (Douglas Smith), Clarisse (Leven Rambin), Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) and Percy (Logan Lerman) are shocked by their latest discovery. Photo: Murray Close TM and © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.
 Dionysus (Stanley Tucci) takes Percy (Logan Lerman) under his wing. Photo: Murray Close TM and © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.
 Percy (Logan Lerman) splits the difference and hangs in there for the cab ride from hell. Photo: Twentieth Century Fox TM and © 2013 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved. Not for sale or duplication.