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Wednesday, 14 August 2013

'PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS 3D' (2013) ~ "A smart and modern monster movie for the Facebook generation . ."

By the rules of Zeus I am obliged to warn of some possible spoilers ahead ~ watch before reading!

For a film aimed mainly at a young adult audience, the early evening screening I attended of PERCY JACKSON: SEA OF MONSTERS was surprisingly full of the more grown up monster movie fan and – especially – young couples. Percy Jackson – date movie? Geek movie? You better believe it!

And this IS a monster movie. Adapted from the bestselling books by Rick Riordan, the first film in what is now a bona fide franchise - 'Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief', seemed to underwhelm too many not familiar with the book’s seemingly convoluted plotlines and sub-Harry Potter thrills.

The trailer for the second film in the continuing adventures of young Percy and friends boded well in advance of the movie's release - it struck more of a power chord with movie monster-loving fans who may have been previously underwhelmed. The new instalment found itself suddenly more talked about, more highly anticipated – and now surely much better box office than the original movie could ever have dared hope for in a delayed follow-up.

Much like the original Harry Potter movie was good clean fun and slightly boringly well crafted, Lightning Thief was also seen to be too low-key in terms of big cinematic ideas and themes; not quite fully fledged blockbuster. As the Harry Potter books hit increasingly epic turns of the page (many, many pages) I can foretell (in an ancient Greece kind of soothsayer way) that the Percy Jackson series has every chance to develop in similar epic strides as young Harry once did, though to assume this franchise will ever reach Potter proportions is probably too wild a claim just yet.

Still, many will avoid this latest movie like a flying trident of Poseidon that needs to be ducked away from, if only because Percy Jackson seems to be entirely teen-based territory, unlike the Harry Potter series, that was resolutely inclusive of all ages it could possibly ensnare. This shouldn't be the case - Sea of Monsters is one of the most fun family adventures in a long while and one of the few that seems to have been put together not by accountants but by those with a genuine cinematic vision.



The plot  is reasonably understandable to cope with. A group of mainly teen children of the greatest Greek gods ever – Zeus, Poseidon, Ares (and the human folk who had it away with these gods in illicit acts of the kind not yet outlawed in Europe but probably will be soon) are protected from those who seek them harm in Camp Half-Blood.

The camp is protected by a force field held firm by a dead girl - Thalia, who was once turned by dad Zeus into a tree upon her dying breath after a nasty pre-teen encounter with a cyclops (in a stunningly eerie and gothic opening sequence) - being turned into a tree was a way for Zeus to keep Thalia alive in some way (gee - thanks Dad!). This tree is also a way to enable a spiritual force field to develop around the remaining children in Camp Half-Blood and keep them safe (the tree it seems acting like some kind of pagan battery - Wicker Man take note and weep!).

Paloma Kwiatkowski

Paloma Kwiatkowski briefly plays grown-up Thalia in Sea of Monsters and her revival as a main character seems long-awaited by fans in the know and she comes with a cult to herself among followers of the books. This young actress, signed up apparently to star in a clutch of future instalments in the franchise as a gothic god-chick, will have a whole lot of hype to live up to. Katelyn Mager plays the young Thalia at the start of the movie too and is also excellent in the limited screen time she has - conveying real sorrow and fear when she is struck down in an act of bravery to save her friends.

The film focuses, of course, on the Camp Half-Blood kid whose name comes before every title - Percy Jackson, the son of Perseus and with power over all things aquatic (bath time must be a riot in his house!). Percy’s helped in his quest to find the Golden Fleece to revive the tree (that's now been poisoned) by his loyal friends Annabeth and Grover after a pep talk from various elders in the village including Chiron the centaur played by Anthony Head (replacing original Chiron - Pierce Brosnan) - an actor who also played an elder guardian type in the Buffy the Vampire Slayer TV series although without the 'being attached to a horse's butt' thing.

Percy’s great enemy is Luke Castellan (played again by a seething Jake Abel), the son of Hermes who plans to resurrect the ancient beast Kronos, Lord of the Titans, who had been slaughtered by a trio of Gods led by Zeus some ancient number of years back. The half-god all-teen (well, kind of) group of friends (and a rival on the 'official' mission heading off separately - led by the 'Miss Perfect' of the camp - Clarisse, daughter of Ares, played by the alluring, kick-assing Leven Rambin) go off into the great outdoors way beyond the forcefield to stop Kronos being raised from the dead and also to find the golden fleece to bring the girl-tree back to life (I'm not too sure who was on which quest at times, but all the adventures were a riot and better than listening to Anthony Head being 'sensible dad' again or hearing advice from the smoke-encircled cobweb-covered glowing prophesying skeletal thing hiding in the attic that comes across here a bit like a zombie Kenneth Kendall in TV's Treasure Hunt if you are old enough and equally encircled by weird smoke and cobwebs to remember!).

The story, though sounding frighteningly convoluted when spoken out loud, isn't as twisty or even as geeky as you may expect - and you don't need to be up on the first movie to take part in this one thanks to a brief opening romp through past events.

Directed with exciting flair and vision by Thor Freudenthal (who gave Diary of a Wimpy Kid such a credible big screen launch), this is a movie of entirely unforced setpieces that make one big adventurous whole – rather like the appeal of the Indiana Jones or Star Wars movies. Old-fashioned thrills strung together on the thinnest of plots and that sometimes remind of other movies you may have loved in childhood. The 3D is excellent, mind-blowing at times - used to astounding effect as monstrous limbs, fire, bullets, smoke, the odd eyeball and a healthy splashing of seawater is flung and splashed well into the back row.
All images in this review: ©

All the cast rise to the occasion, especially drop dead gorgeous Alexandra Daddario as Annabeth, daughter of Athena (but last seen scantily clad and  kicking Leatherface’s ass in the really quite entertaining Texas Chainsaw 3D - but it's a deliberately restrained, more geeky kind of smouldering here, though the filmmakers may just be waiting for the second sequel to go down the Princess Leia/ Return of the Jedi demigod chain bikini route!). One mystery left unresolved in Sea of Monsters is why Daddario, a feisty brunette in the first movie, is now a slightly less feisty, even slightly sulky, pleated blonde - maybe even demigods have bad hair days.

Brandon T. Jackson as the brilliantly droll satyr 'protector' of Percy Jackson is a constant scene stealer and even gets to try a spot of drag as a double act alongside a giant hungry cyclops found (wonderfully) trapped under an abandoned rollercoater in a forgotten funfair which gives us the classic line, upon the giant beast of a man-thing finding out his companion is a teenage boy, not a besotted girl slave, of: "You're a dude? Well, that explains a lot!".

Logan Lerman (fresh from Perks of Being a Wallflower) returns as the enigmatic Percy Jackson and is a decent enough hero in a nicely understated way - he certainly gets beaten and bloodied enough to earn his pay throughout the movie. But perhaps best of all among the Sea of Monsters cast is furrow-browed Douglas Smith, mesmerising as the newly arrived half brother of Percy, son of Poseidon and if that's not bad enough - he's a cyclops too. This young rising star fills his screen time with part cool, part pathos, all teenage angst. Great stuff! You can see him next in big screen horror Stage Fright alongside Minnie Driver and Meatloaf which could just be a riot.

Percy, both bloody and battered!
The cyclops is the tall one, in disguise here as 'not a cyclops'!

But as good as the cast is, it's the incredible setpieces that simply dominate this film: a wild rampaging bronze bull is a technical marvel - effectively (convincingly) dangerous and deadly, a ship’s crew of uniformed zombies is a droll surprise and the Bermuda Triangle reference of a stomach full of lost ships is a storming idea (as is the descent into a whirlpool to get there, hanging on for dear life surrounded by what looks like shark fins inspiring some great dialogue: “Please tell me those aren’t sharks” asks one character – the other looks, replies, deadpan – “Those aren’t sharks.”).

The clinging on to a dinghy here as the water sinks to a bottomless pit is, in 3D, a simply awesome spectacle. As is the film’s wonderfully loud and spectacular giant of an ending with a towering demon spinning into form and crumbling and reforming with every step - rising up before the young and favourite sons and daughters of the great gods. This is a creature that reminds of the randy growling tower-top demon seen at the end of Ghostbusters  that so terrified all those under a certain age simply expecting cute marshmallow men or maybe even reminiscent of Disney’s own gothic demonic Maleficent from Snow White. Add a huge furry toothy beast thing with a scorpion’s tail and this a film that will delight all lovers of Harryhausen movies (especially Jason and the Argonauts) or beloved b-movie monster madness made blockbuster in scope.

Which isn’t to say the film is one long old-fashioned monster fest – it’s not. Plenty of the action takes place in modern day Washington where those with mythical origins are integrated into the general population through a magical mist that renders multi-armed coffee baristas as normal as two-armed coffee barristers ever could be. Much like Star Trek’s The Voyage Home that mixed sci-fi with wisecracking modern New York out-of-towners humour, here too monsters, myths and madness mix with modern day technology, social media and very likely the odd tweet to the gods above. There’s also a great scene of a New York taxi driven by blind witches spiralling through the streets in a terrific 3D jaw-dropping race.

This interplay between ancient and modern is what sets the Percy Jackson series apart and is too spectacular to ignore. Whether you are an initial sceptic or not, you can only sit back and admire the innovation on display here - because some people worked bloody hard to give you this much excitement and innovation and the film never stints on thrilling setpieces from the start that look expensive to create but never show off the bucks for the sake of it.

This excitement and adventure comes courtesy of a hefty breath of genuine amazement and true love of movie magic as strong as if blown from the cheeks of Poseidon himself - this is a smart and modern monster movie for the Facebook generation that creature feature fans of any age will love. Percy Jackson deserves franchise longevity on the strength of this instalment alone. By the powers of Zeus, I swear this to be so …


Words: Mark Gordon Palmer

Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, all images copyright: Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation/ 2013

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