Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
August 2013

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters

Sea of cheat codes

'Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters' is an embarrassingly plotted CGI-fest petrified at the thought of making an actual storytelling decision

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters
20th Century Fox
Director: Thor Freudenthal
Screenplay: Marc Guggenheim, based on the novel by Rick Riordan
Starring: Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Brandon T. Jackson, Douglas Smith, Jake Abel, Leven Rambin, Stanley Tucci and Nathan Fillion
Rated PG / 1 hour, 46 minutes
August 7, 2013
(out of four)

The most important thing we have to realize about Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is that it is virtually impossible for anyone to die. There seems to be some sort of unwritten rule that death is not allowed.

Well, let's clarify that. People die, all right, but they don't stay dead, or they weren't really dead in the first place. You just think they're dead, and then they come back when the plot needs them to, with some silly explanation of how come they're not dead. If it looks like someone is about to be killed, rest assured he will have a special and overly specific ability that will protect him against the specific type of death presumably being dished out. If someone seemingly falls to her death, rest assured there's something waiting to save her at the bottom of the cliff. If we actually SEE someone die, there's always going to be something around to magically bring him back to life. In fact, even the long-dead figure out a way to not be dead anymore.

To be clear, it's not that I want to see a bunch of magical teenagers kick the bucket. It's just that the world of Percy Jackson and Friends seems to treat death as if it does not exist. And considering their lives are almost entirely defined by life-or-death, end-of-the-world situations, the lack of any real threat of death makes the movie feel disingenuous at best, patronizing at worst. I know this is supposed to be wholesome and PG and all, but let's try to at least take your own premise seriously, yeah?

In fact, there's been a curious unwillingness to deal with death from the beginning of the series (in the movies, at least - I haven't read the books). In 2010's franchise-starter The Lightning Thief, the titular hero Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) sees his mother die right before his eyes, briefly reacts with something that might be called sadness, and then proceeds to the next scene as if the whole thing were nothing but a slight bummer. As if he had just missed the bus, or gotten rejected by a girl, instead of, y'know, witnessing his mother getting murdered right in front of him. The movie tried to brush the trauma under the rug as quickly as it could.

The sequel, Sea of Monsters, continues to approach the subject with trepidation - or avoid it altogether. Early on, Percy is shocked to discover that his old rival Luke (Jake Abel), is alive and well, despite having seemingly died at the end of the previous movie. He's still a bad guy, and this time he's going after the mystical Golden Fleece - located somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle - which has powerful regenerative powers and which he plans to use to resurrect Kronos and destroy the world or something.

Percy and his pals - fellow half-blood Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), his satyr-ical (get it?) best friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), and his newfound half-brother Tyson (Douglas Smith), a cyclops* - take off on their own quest to find the fleece, right on the heels of a rival group from their half-blood camp (ingeniously named Camp Half-Blood), led by the arrogant and fiercely competitive Clarisse (Leven Rambin).

* Apparently a cyclops is what happens when a god mates with a sea nymph. That Poseidon is quite the Casanova. And I get the impression he's not big on using rubbers.

Sea of Monsters has gotta be one of the most lazily plotted movies I've ever seen. Like the constant circumvention of death I mentioned earlier, every single element has a stupid loophole, every setpiece has an easy solution, and every plot development is the result of some arbitrarily manufactured device. Exhibit A: gadgetry. Percy and Friends make a visit to Hermes (Nathan Fillion, the film's lone bright spot), who provides them with two powerful gadgets to help them along their quest. One of them is a thermos that, once unlocked, will release the most powerful winds of Earth. How does the movie choose to utilize such an impressive device? Well, the gang is out at sea one afternoon trying to escape from Luke's yacht. They jump on a motorized life raft - or speedboat, or something - and, whoopsie! They drop the motor into the water. And so they're forced to open up the thermos and ride the wind across the ocean to safety.

And that's it. "Whoops, we accidentally dropped the motor to our speedboat into the water and couldn't get it out" is the entire rationale for the usage of all the winds of the Earth. The lack of imagination is astounding.

None of the other setpieces show any more ingenuity, but only grow increasingly frustrating with the cheap ways the filmmakers go about circumventing their own ideas and cheating their way out of danger. Sea of Monsters is terrible in a lot of ways, but its storytelling cowardice may be the biggest culprit.


Read more by Chris Bellamy


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