Of all the young adult (YA) franchise starter wannabes that have graced the big screen only to disappear into obscurity, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is probably not the one you’d expect or want to get a sequel. (That honor goes to this year’s Beautiful Creatures, a conclusion I’m sure all twelve people who paid to see it in theaters would agree with.) But box office is a global game now, so when Percy and his friends grossed $226M on a $95M budget the sequel got the green light envied by so many others.
But where the first film had a massive, Harry Potter-sized marketing campaign, a Potter director in Chris Columbus and a non-Potter shirtless Pierce Brosnan, the follow-up would have to make do with somewhat less. Namely a smaller budget, a director named Thor, and a bespectacled Anthony Head.
After realizing his identity as the son of Poseidon in the first film, Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is now firmly ensconced in the world of the half-bloods and remains something of a legend at the fat camp where all of the twenty-something kids hang out and train for the Hunger Games. When a giant mechanical bull breaks through the magical wall surrounding camp it sets Percy on a quest for the only thing that can save them all, the legendary Golden Fleece. Together with Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) the satyr, Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) the eye model, and Tyson (Douglas Smith) the surprise step-brother who can only see the world in 2D, Percy heads off to the Bermuda Triangle to face his waterlogged destiny once again.
As unexpected and possibly unwanted as this sequel is the biggest surprise here is that the film surpasses its predecessor in regard to quality. Granted, that’s not a very difficult achievement (see my review of the first film), but it’s still appreciated. The difference comes thanks to the dialogue and small character interactions in Marc Guggenheim‘s script that finds the humor and personality between false dramas and mediocre CGI set-pieces. Some of the laughs come courtesy of Stanley Tucci‘s disinterested camp director Dionysus, but the highlight is a five minute scene featuring Nathan Fillion as Hermes, head of the OPS (Olympic Postal Service).
Guggenheim’s script is less successful when it comes to the actual narrative and the motivations/machinations of the central villain, the nefariously-named Luke (Jake Abel). The action beats feel small, and while that’s most likely due to the film’s reduced budget the set-pieces simply fail to generate excitement or suspense. Luke meanwhile is still holding the same grudge that powered him through the first film, and Abel does him nor the film any favors with his dull performance.
Percy’s fellow adventurers, along with the rest of the supporting cast, just don’t seem to matter in any way. Tyson is more annoying than anything else, but he’s kept around to press a message about family that fails to land in a movie where Percy doesn’t mention his mom once. The others are equally one note including Clarisse (Leven Rambin), the hot-head daughter of the god of war. Like Tyson, she appears to be little more than a tool to teach a lesson, in this case on cooperation. This kind of simplistic structure would work in an actual childrens’ film, but this is aimed at teens and youthful twenty-somethings who deserve at least some effort towards character development.
Director Thor Freudenthal continues to pad his resume with YA films following Hotel for Dogs and Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and he brings that same workman-like lack of style to the world of Percy Jackson. If nothing else his film stands out for its quaint scale in a summer of gigantic blockbusters, but that lack of size isn’t enough to warrant a watch. Fans of the books should support it, but film goers simply looking for a fun adventure with the kids may want to look elsewhere.
The Upside: Nathan Fillion’s five minutes are better than the entirety of the first film; some fun character work; stained-glass window flashback
The Downside: CGI and other effects feel third rate; story and characters fail to create any real interest
On the Side: There are six books so far in author Rick Riordan‘s Percy Jackson series.