Adapted from Rick Riordan’s popular novel series, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief proved to be a playful and speedy, if unremarkable, escapist adventure. Ultimately though, due to poor box office takings (it made a paltry $230M worldwide), a sequel seemed highly unlikely. Fast forward three years and, as if by magic, the son of Poseidon is back in action for Percy Jackson: Sea Of Monsters, this time with new director Thor Freudenthal on board.
With its protective border weakened in a poisonous attack instigated by traitor Luke (Jake Abel), Camp Half-Blood – a safe haven for demigods fabricated by Zeus after the death of his daughter – finds itself in a vulnerable position. Percy (Logan Lerman), desperate to prove himself as more than a one-quest-wonder, leads an expedition to the Sea of Monsters in order to retrieve the Golden Fleece and save Camp Half-Blood before Luke can exact his evil plan.
Benefitting from a noticeably more streamlined narrative, Sea Of Monsters is leaps and bounds better than its predecessor. Freudanthal, who assumes the directorial reigns from Chris Columbus, feels entirely at ease with the material; from the very start a lively, energetic and resolute tone – one that matches Percy’s steadfast nature – is established that keeps the film drifting along at a delightfully speedy pace, even in spite of the script’s weaknesses.
Those weaknesses, which include a lack of foreboding tension and thinly sketched characters, are undoubtedly harmful to the film in that they restrict how invested the audiences can be. Yet it’s hard to place the sole blame with Guggenheim, who manages to deliver some surprises and a welcome sprinkling of both wit and Greek mythology teachings. Freudanthal, too, raises the stakes with a range of well-executed and budget-busting action sequences that are plenty entertaining.
Credit, too, must be paid to the actors. Lerman, who’s star has risen in a big way since The Lightning Thief, is able to add a significant amount of depth, sincerity and humour to Percy, while Alexandra Daddario is solid as Annabeth. Newcomers Leven Ramblin and Douglas Smith acquit themselves well as Percy’s rival Clarisse and Percy’s half-brother Tyson, respectively, and there’s decent bit-parts played by Stanley Tucci, Anthony Head and Nathan Fillion.
Unlike The Lightning Thief, Sea Of Monsters feels more at ease with itself. Not only have the actors settled into their roles well, but Freudenthal also feels like a better choice of director. It’s frustrating to see how little the universe and characters have been extended, but it’s somewhat pardonable given what’s been delivered: an enjoyable family adventure that’s as gleefully silly (a involving a ride in the chariot of damnation is a shining example of this) as it is peppered with moments of pure brilliance.