I suppose anything that gets kids interested in Greek mythology can’t be a total travesty, but this ham-fisted, teen-centric blend of Harry Potter and the infinitely more spellbinding Jason and the Argonauts comes within a cyclops’ eyelash of being so bad it’s almost (but not quite) good. The second in an apparent film franchise drawn from author Rick Riordan’s young-adult novels based on the exploits of Poseidon’s teenage offspring Percy (Lerman) and his pals – Grover the Satyr (Jackson) and Clarisse the something-or-other (Rambin) – Sea of Monsters reunites the kids of Camp Half-Blood (as in demigods and demigoddesses) and then proceeds to put them through the Hellenic wringer once again.
Director Freudenthal, taking over from Chris Columbus, piles on the challenges as Hermes’ scheming son Luke (Abel) seeks to wreck the fun at Camp Half-Blood by destroying the magical protective force field that encircles it. Thus Percy and his pals – along with newcomer Tyson (Smith), a youthful cyclops claiming to be Percy’s long lost half-brother – embark on a quest to secure the legendary Golden Fleece before Luke can use the magical hide to resurrect a world-destroying Titan.
Comic moments fall flat throughout; a whizzing cab ride driven by three witches sharing one eye feels lifted, bizarrely, from both Harry Potter and, of all things, Scrooged, and the race to the cyclops’ lair feels perfunctory at best, grating at worst. Stanley Tucci, returning as the appropriately garish Dionysus (aka “Mr. D”) provides some acting worth watching, but the first film’s roster of adult thespians – Uma Thurman, Steve Coogan, Pierce Brosnan – are for the most part nowhere in evidence here. It pretty much goes without saying that the 3-D adds nothing to the film, and while the digital effects are sometimes thrilling (the toothy, whirlpooling Charybdis, in particular), any movie that relies on special effects over character development and a coherent plot is doomed from the get-go.
Sea of Monsters’ most bizarre and apropos-of-nothing moment comes when the half-blood kids find themselves stuck on – I kid you not – what appears to be the Civil War ironclad ship Monitor, captained and crewed by a host of Confederate zombies. What the Hades? It makes no sense in the Greek mythos on which the film draws, but hey, zombies are hot these days, so why not? In a film that tries way too hard to please everyone, that’s just silly.