"You're more than a one-quest wonder," someone tells Percy Jackson at the outset of his next adventure. Not by the looks of his sequel, he isn't.
The teenaged demigod returns in Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters, after dispatching with a lightning thief and exhausting much of the franchise's charm three years ago. That first movie was obviously a calculated grab for Harry Potter-type movie success but didn't feel like a rip-off. This one skews younger, to an easier-to-please demographic, closely resembling other fantasies since.
The Potter similarities remain intact, with the quasi-Muggle — sorry, mortal — Percy (Logan Lerman) joined by an intrepid demigoddess (Alexandra Daddario) and a comic relief sidekick satyr (Brandon T. Jackson). Hermione and Ron shouldn't worry about their legacy being one-upped. They're part of the half-blood culture, echoing one of J.K. Rowling's book titles and that saga's clan jealousies.
There's also a Hunger Games vibe, with Stanley Tucci overseeing another bone crushing athletic competition among children as the story begins. A gigantic brimstone demon at a key juncture could be a less anatomically correct version of the one in This is the End. For a series inspired by Greek mythology, from which all stories spring, Percy's new movie seems awfully derivative.
The quest this time is to locate the legendary Golden Fleece, stashed in the Bermuda Triangle and guarded by a nearsighted Cyclops. The fleece's powers can revive a tree fertilized by the corpse of a half-blood who sacrificed herself for others. Then the protective shield around Half-Blood Camp can be restored, after an armored robo-bull smashed it.
That rampaging bovine is one of several artfully designed creatures popping into Thor Freudenthal's movie, and deserting it soon after. A sea horse — literally a horse with fish tendencies — is lovely, while a scorpion-werewolf hybrid and fanged Charybdis whirlpool provide scary cameos. On the other hand, too much time is spent with three cackling, eyeless witches driving a "chariot of damnation" designed like a New York City cab, in scenes playing like outtakes from that lame Lemony Snicket movie.
Other effects are just too silly to be taken seriously, like a Thermos bottle providing jet propulsion, a magical packing tape dispenser and Confederate zombies sailing a ghost ironclad ship. Believe it or not, those aren't the qualities of Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters that really irritated me.
One is the ease with which dead characters conveniently come back to life. If that happens once in a fantasy it's a cheap way out. Here, it happens three times. The other is Percy's newfound half-brother Tyson (Douglas Smith), the offspring of Poseidon — who can't keep his trident in his pants — and a sea nymph. Those genetics somehow make Tyson into a Cyclops, although without one trait that would assist Smith's emoting. Can a Cyclops get an eyebrow around here?
Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.