12/26/2013

Blu-ray Review: Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters (2013)


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Related Review:
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
   


Graduating from the bland screenplay penned by the man behind the modern big-screen versions of Scooby-Doo and Cheaper By the Dozen in Percy’s first outing to a solid fast-paced, suspense-packed script from veteran superhero adapter and Arrow co-creator Marc Guggenheim in the second film was a step in the right direction for this superior sequel to Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.

Ratcheting up the action as well as the power of its plotline for our young demigod’s return ensures that viewers won’t be quite as tempted to nod off as they were during Harry Potter 1 and 2 director Chris Columbus' dazzling-to-look-at but unfortunately underwhelming yawn of a hero’s journey series starter.


Yet instead of returning to the director’s chair when the time came for production to begin on the sequel, Columbus took a backseat to the action, settling in as executive producer rather than filmmaker and leaving a slot open for someone new to take over at the helm.

Whether Columbus was not fond of repeating himself – given that he’d already delivered on another magic oriented world of YA friendly special effects that had likewise began as a successful series of books – or was simply uninspired with the material is anyone’s guess.

And when you consider the numerous criticisms that Columbus faced, which – somewhat correctly – labeled Percy Jackson (which was adapted from the YA series by Rick Riordan) a retread of Harry Potter, his reluctance to oversee the shoot is easily understandable.

 

Whatever the case may have been, luckily, his absence became an advantage. As it turns out, a fresh perspective is exactly what the series needed and that’s exactly what it receives this time around under the guidance of Stuart Little filmmaker Thor Freudenthal.

And indeed it's Freudenthal's obvious enthusiasm for his subject matter which elevates Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters even during scenes that bear a strong resemblance to Potter  – from a cab that takes the main characters to their destination in a way that’s hard not to recall the flying vehicle in Columbus’ second Potter feature.

Joining forces with the Potter vet Columbus is Twilight: Breaking Dawn producer Karen Rosenfelt whose work on that tween smash ensures that those behind the scenes – including Diary of a Wimpy Kid helmer Freudenthal – know a thing or two about how to successfully adapt popular young adult novels to film. And their work pays off much better in this second Jackson vehicle as they use not only what they’ve gleaned on their own works but also learned from the mistakes made in the first film as well.

 

No stranger to CGI given his background on Disney’s The Haunted Mansion as well as Stuart Little, Freudenthal uses the creative construction of Guggenheim’s script brilliantly.

Tonally finding a winsome junior Whedonesque approach that ensures there’s always a tongue-in-cheek level of humor infused throughout, Freudenthal (via Guggenheim) successfully combines wit with drama to the extent that Whedon veterans Anthony Head and Nathan Fillion turn up in small but memorable roles, taking over for Pierce Brosnan and Dylan Neal respectively.


Likewise by paying tribute to everything from Clash of the Titans to Raiders of the Lost Ark, Monsters offers a nice wink to the audience, this time around in on the realization that things needn’t be taken so deathly serious since quest films and tales of mythic hero’s journeys have been around forever. So rather than try and reinvent the wheel, Freudenthal just grabs hold of it and takes us on a terrifically entertaining ride, pointing out landmarks in the form of homage along the way.

Quickening the pace considerably, we're treated to impressive action sequences from a contemporary equivalent of a Chariot of Damnation by way of the aforementioned chaotic cab ride along with a scene of wave surfing that offers Logan Lerman’s Percy the chance to prove he’s more than just a one-quest wonder, as he fears when the film opens.


Venturing to the titular Sea of Monsters (aka the Bermuda Triangle) along with fellow demigod friends Annabeth and Grover in addition to a few vital new characters, our young heroes set out to find The Golden Fleece. Although I reacquainted myself with the original film prior to viewing the sequel, I realized shortly into Monsters that unlike many other YA series, preparation was far from necessary.

Thankfully, the filmmakers remedy any gaps in understanding fairly quickly. Additionally, they also set up an intriguing new myth involving the daughter of Zeus that – with its inclusion of an alarming prophecy – is sure to effectively play out over the course of this film and the 2015 third Jackson release, dubbed The Titan’s Curse.

Admittedly, when you contrast Jackson not only to Potter but other contemporary young adult fare including The Hunger Games the new X-Men: First Class reboot features, it does suffer by comparison given some of its generic plotting problems that aren't nearly original enough as the sky's the limit creativity of the world of X-Men.

 

However, it’s so well crafted that – thanks to its snappy pace, outstanding visual effects, impressive talent roster – Percy, much like I Am Number Four, Abduction or City of Ember, keeps you watching. And unlike those three, Percy has had the benefit of a previous installment to bounce back from – only getting better in the process.

A diverting piece of entertainment that will certainly appeal to its target demographic, while Monsters was needlessly converted to 3D in post-production to try and attract format enthusiasts to come seek it out on the big screen, given how jaw-droppingly clear the effects of Fox’s flawless Blu-ray transfer are in 2D, I can’t imagine someone needing the extra “pop” in picture quality.

Similarly, considering how briskly paced the action scenes are with so much CGI coming at you, it’s safe to assume that 3D would’ve actually detracted from the film – generating more of the medium’s side effects of headaches and nausea than usual – since things whiz by so quickly in two dimensions that it may have been more burden than bonus.

 

While it does lose some steam in its third act and it isn’t hard to imagine a full fifteen minutes being chopped from the feature to tighten it up even more from its otherwise predictable adherence to Joseph Campbell’s mythical paradigm, fortunately this sequel is far more memorable than the original offering.

Unlike The Lightning Thief – Sea of Monsters has impressively won you over for the next feature before it’s even begun by book-ending this script with a new character and complication all set to carry over into the third film.

And by building in such a dynamic open-and-close punch, Guggenheim and Freudenthal make you think even more of this film thanks to what we have yet to see than what we just have through the eyes of our young demigods onscreen, in a magical feat of storytelling and movie-making magic from those behind Monsters’ scenes.   


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