Percy Jackson and the Savage Critics

Percy Jackson and the Sea of Monsters, directed by Thor Freudenthal

Percy Jackson perfectly illustrates the problem with movie critics.  The movie is entirely average.   Movie critics, having watched thousands of average movies, are bored by them, and thus treat them with special disdain.  Percy Jackson currently stands at 33 percent on RottenTomatoes.com.  That’s unfair.  The movie is mostly entertaining, boasts fancy effects and a few thrilling sequences, and—this is important—is entirely inoffensive.  This is a solid 60 percent flick.

I previously described the first Percy Jackson book as a “perfectly serviceable young adult fantasy novel,” which is a good description of the first movie (2010) too.  In Percy’s world, the gods of ancient Greece are real, as are their half-human children who are imbued with special powers by virtue of their divine lineage.  Percy, son of Poseidon, can manipulate water.  The five-book cycle, authored by Rick Riordan, details Percy’s epic quest to defeat Kronos, evil father of Zeus, from returning and overthrowing the gods (and western civilization).  And so forth.  You either like this stuff or you don’t.

The filmmakers seem not to know whether they want Percy Jackson to be Lord of the Rings (epic, somber, and PG-13) or the first two Harry Potter films (kid-friendly, light-hearted, and PG).  The result has been a mish-mash.  The two films have both been borderline PG in a clear attempt to draw family crowds—but there are frightening images in Sea of Monsters I wouldn’t want my three- and four-year-old to see.  It has some painfully bad attempts at zany humor involving eyeless taxi drivers and talking snakes in a failed attempt to lighten the mood (though Nathan Fillon walks off with the single, brief scene he gets).

But then it switches to epic mode with intense battles against a metal bull, hulking Cyclops, a monkey with a scorpion’s tail, and Kronos, who looks a lot like Satan (and the Balrog form Fellowship of the Ring).

The result is a tonally inconsistent movie held together by Logan Lerman’s earnest portrayal of the titular Percy.  Lerman—who gave a poignant, heartfelt performance in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, one of last year’s best overlooked movies—is the best thing about this movie and offers Percy his only chance at a continuing franchise.  Lerman makes the film watchable because he gives us someone we want to root for.

So what more can be said?  This summer has seen movies with offensive bombast (Lone Ranger), apocalyptic mayhem (World War Z, Man of Steel, Star Trek Into Darkness), and vulgarity (The Heat, This is the End).  Percy Jackson is inoffensive.  It isn’t in the least bit original—but not every movie has to be Citizen Kane.  Like every action movie, ever, it lauds courage, loyalty, and sacrifice—and throws in a small lesson about family and tolerance, too.

Percy Jackson is two hours’ light entertainment that will not tax your mind or offend your sensibilities.  If you want an energetic, fun, epic science-fiction summer popcorn movie, go see Pacific Rim.  Then, if you still want to go to the movies, go see The Wolverine.  After that, go see Percy Jackson.


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