[Review] Percy Jackson: Sea of One-Star Material and One-Scene Wonders

I’m a fan of young adult fantasy books like Harry Potter, and I generally try to make an effort to see it in theatres if it’s good. Recently the new Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters film (directed by Thor Freudenthal) was released, and like its predecessor, Lightning Thief, is based on the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, and when I say “based,” I mean “very loosely based.” If you are planning to watch this movie and haven’t done so, turn away now because after reading this you may be discouraged from seeing it. Spoilers ahoy!

My reaction as I watched the movie.

Here are two reviews I agree with in fewer words: [1] [2]

A thing you should know about me before I proceed any further: I am a pragmatic book purist. What this means is that although I would like to see the film stay true to the source material, I do understand that there are limitations that the adaptation medium cannot circumvent very easily: length (a complete adaptation without cuts would probably take hours (and several movies for one book like Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows) to adequately portray everything that goes on in the book), child labour laws (making older characters necessary for smoother production schedules, but they managed it with the Harry Potter films, both series which were produced by Chris Columbus who had also had a say in picking child actors for HP), and inadequate special effects to portray phenomena in the book (which this film unfortunately had) due to limited budgets. These were things I were expecting while watching this film on Saturday, but it just… tanked. Here are some reasons as to why I think this movie didn’t do as well as I thought it would:

Covering Up Plot Holes Digs More

I could tell that this film was really trying to stay true to the book while trying to maintain continuity with the previous movie. However, by doing this it broke many things, including Grover’s search for Pan and his subsequent capture by Polyphemus, leading to a boosted number of adventurers in the quest for the Golden Fleece (even though it was really Clarisse’s), which as Chiron says should stay at three and no more than that:

You would be breaking the ancient laws, and there are always consequences. Last winter, five went on a quest to save Artemis. Only three came back. Think on that. Three is a sacred number. […] It is a good strong number that stands against many dangers.

-Chiron, Battle of the Labyrinth

Grover not being kidnapped by Polyphemus brings that total up to four, where bad things supposedly happen. Nothing happens, weakening the mythos behind the books.

But the most glaring travesty is the revival of Kronos. Never once are you ever supposed to see him regain an autonomous body as if that were to happen he would become unstoppable. Yet we see him rise from the sarcophagus and begin devouring demigods including Luke (and Grover). He is a big pushover and does not display any signs of significant powers like chronokinesis (though this could be handwaved with “he’s not at full strength,” but seriously?). Percy defeats him easily and hurls him back into the container he emerged from. I don’t see how they can keep doing this in the next movie or allow Luke to be possessed by Kronos once the Titan was forced back into the box. Kronos’ subsequent defeat causes him to expel those that he ate, and Luke ends up trapped in Polyphemus’ lair, implying he doesn’t make it out alive. Good job, filmmakers.

Going through the Actual Odessey

In the book Percy, Tyson, and Annabeth go through almost the entirety of Odysseus’ journey and encounter the Sirens, Circe, Polyphemus, and Charybdis and Scylla with only a few minor changes. Only two of those things actually made it into the movie, albeit heavily butchered.

Passing By Charybdis and Scylla

Source: Blogspot: Monsters and Beasts

The narrow stretch of water between Charybdis and Scylla is the source of the idiom “between a rock and a hard place.” The scenario was chosen to be as follows: either sail towards Charybdis and have the entire ship be trashed by the waves, or brave Scylla and lose a few crewmen. The movie decides to do something else entirely and decides to have the demigods (and Tyson) end up in the belly of the whirlpool; Scylla gets a brief mention from Clarisse when she is asked as to what happened to her satyr companion. Other than that, they just blast out of Charybdis’ stomach. There is no dilemma between the two, and so it strays far away from the original work.

C.C.’s Resort

During a leg of his journey, Odysseus and his men had come across the island of Circe, where many of them had been transformed into pigs by the eponymous sorceress. In the Percyverse this gets changed to guinea pigs (that Circe loves shipping to kindergarteners).

The movie mentions Circe in brief when Percy and his friends reach the hiding place of the Golden Fleece, though instead of a spa for women, it’s presented as an abandoned amusement park as well as Polyphemus’ nest (which was made explicitly separate in the book). It also begs the question of “what happened to Circe?” Has her essence been dispelled?

This huge change also sets up a huge plot hole if the producers decide to make movies into the sequel series The Heroes of Olympus, where a minor character is briefly mentioned here and later makes a reappearance and hates Percy because of what he ended up doing at her ex-place of employment.

The Sirens

Ey~ Sexy Lady

This event was completely cut out entirely from the movie, and while it doesn’t do much in the way of progressing the story, it’s important in developing Annabeth’s character. It allows the reader to get a glimpse into what she wants: her father, her mother, and Luke peacefully in front of buildings she has personally designed. This also introduced the concept of fatal flaws, traits that supposedly bring about the downfall of a hero (Annabeth mentioned to Percy that hers is hubris).

Polyphemus’ Island (or Just Lair if You’re Going by the Movie)

There’s a slight modification in the Percyverse as Percy and Annabeth try to get into the cave by climbing the underbellies of carnivorous bloodthirsty sheep instead of getting out.

It also begged the question of why Polyphemus wasn’t able to move the boulder in front of his lair after it fell across his entrance in the film. He’s a very big guy against a very small boulder. Even by excuse of magic boulder it’s still highly dubious, and why he didn’t just relocate elsewhere. Polyphemus has also tried to turn Tyson (by virtue of both being cyclopses) into helping him in the book (instead of just pummeling him), further cementing Tyson’s loyalty to Percy.

Small Things that Annoyed Me

These things aren’t too detrimental to the story and their omission or alteration doesn’t affect it much, per se, but for loyal book followers they hit them in the face with a big WTF.

Use of Technology

When the campers are searching for methods to save Thalia’s tree, Annabeth digs out something that suspiciously looks like an iPad and uses it to show Grover the Golden Fleece. While it’s not like a cell phone, it bears a lot of similarity to one in regards to transmissions. This can be easily handwaved.

Drinking Nectar

Nectar and ambrosia are really helpful in healing wounds for demigods, but must be taken in moderate amounts or they’ll die. In fact, they really only eat/drink them when injured. In the movie they go into a (coffee?) shop and order shots of nectar willy-nilly. Have fun burning up, you guys!

Mist-In-A-Bottle

In the book, Mist is ubiquitous in the world. It prevents mortals that are not clear-sighted from seeing the supernatural. This is somewhat true in the movie; It can come in a perfume bottle that veils Tyson’s one eye from everyone. So now a question unfolds: how do other monsters deal with stuff like this on a daily basis when they live among mortals?

And it’s obvious that Mist still exists in the movie universe with the Hekatonchiere serving them nectar shots, because a mortal looks at him and sees only one pair of hands. Why does Mist need to be bottled and why is having one eye not being hidden by the mist while multiple pairs of hands are?

Reveal of Turned Demigods

While Chris Rodriguez was known to have turned to Luke’s side, Ethan Nakamura and Silena Beauguard have not. Guess that’s going to make the reveal in The Last Olympian a bit tricky to do…

Kronos’ Sarcophagus

In the movie Luke claims that he walked into Tartarus and retrieved the box, walking out with no apparent adverse effects. As evil as he may have been, I doubt he had enough ability to escape Tartarus unscathed. The book decided to have a box that reforms a part of Kronos’ body every time a demigod turns to Luke’s side.

Revival of Kronos and How it Could’ve Been Prevented

I’ve already mentioned why Kronos’ revival was ridiculous above, but I’m going to say this: even if a sibling of yours returns from being seemingly dead, at least remove a piece of golden sheepskin with the ability to heal almost anything which has been placed on a box of sealed evil before embracing each other. Not doing that is a trademark way to hand the heroes the idiot ball, screenwriter Marc Guggenheim.

Familial Lineage

When Kronos is revived, he is greeted by Luke and responds with “Ah, my favourite grandson” before promptly eating him.

No. That is not true. Let’s take a look at this here family tree, shall we?

Yep, it’s a really screwed up family tree. Click to enlarge.

Hermes’ father is Zeus, whose father is Kronos. That would make Luke his great-grandson, not his grandson.

The Backstory Behind Kronos

In the movie, when Percy goes up to meet the Oracle (who shows up for the first time in the movies), we’re introduced to the legend of Kronos being defeated by Zeus and chopped up into little bitsies, saving all the gods that have been eaten by the former. Oh wait, that never happened; instead, the Big Three manage to defeat him together.

Annabeth’s Death Revival

Basically it boils down to this: if the Golden Fleece can bring people back to life, death would become really cheap for the demigods. Annabeth just got severely wounded after her head was bashed on rocks in the book.

The Oracle’s Great Prophecy

Some content in the prophecy had to be changed, such as the age (which is understandable, given film restrictions as I stated before up above). But the way the prophecy was interpreted (even though it was ultimately false) was ridiculous and made me mentally facepalm. No, Percy, Riptide isn’t the cursed blade the Oracle speaks of. You don’t learn what it’s all about until The Last Olympian.

Characterisation

…and I’ve opened up another can of worms. The characterisation of most of the people in the movie deviate a lot from the originals in the novels.

Percy “Low Self-Esteem” Jackson

Logan Lerman returns to portray our protagonist once more in this film. In the beginning of the movie Percy’s by the lakeside, wondering if his previous quest was all a fluke, getting notice from his father, and if he really belongs at Camp Half-Blood. He is also very serious for some reason. While it’s great for internal conflict in the movie, that trait’s more associated with Ron Weasley Grover, who’s had loads of that in the books. Book!Percy is more lax and immature, and the narrative in his voice shows him to be a snarky protagonist who’s quite reckless. As far as how he looks compared to himself in The Lightning Thief, he seems emotionally deader.

Left: From Lightning Thief; Right: From Sea of Monsters

Left: From Lightning Thief; Right: From Sea of Monsters

Grover “Somewhat Sensible” Underwood

I don’t have much to say about Grover, save for him not setting up an empathy link between him and Percy because he doesn’t really do much during the movie except being kidnapped. Brandon T. Jackson still provides some wise-cracking humour which lightens the movie somewhat.

Left: From Lightning Thief; Right: From Sea of Monsters

Left: From Lightning Thief; Right: From Sea of Monsters

Annabeth “Damsel” Chase

If there’s one thing that Alexandra Daddario got right this time, it’s dying her hair blonde. That being said, her badassery seems to be sucked out of her in each movie so far, moreso in Sea of Monsters. She doesn’t carry around her knife and invisibility helmet which hampers her almost nonexistent fighting skills, and for a daughter of Athena, the goddess of wisdom, she doesn’t plan many strategies. I guess she’s still shell-shocked when she got exploded on an airplane as Kate Moreau.

Left: From Lightning Thief; Right: From Sea of Monsters

Left: From Lightning Thief; Right: From Sea of Monsters

Tyson “Baby-Face”

No matter how mature Percy and the others should be given an enforced age-up, Tyson should not have been that cool (I sort of liked Douglas Smith). Granted, he’s still somewhat naive, but he doesn’t have a baby-like fascination of the world. He seems a bit “too cool” for my taste and the filmmakers left out his technical aptitude, which may be mentioned in the next movie. That previous point would have made Tyson unique to the group and have something to contribute.

Tyson with Mist covering his one eye. Source: Contact Music

Clarisse “Bitchin'” La Rue

Out of all the characters, Clarisse was probably the truest to her book counterpart. Even though Glimmer Levin Rambin was attractive–pretty much the opposite of her description in the book–she was still an asshole. She did seem a little nicer to Percy afterwards in the movie (though whether she still has begrudging respect for him is still unclear). The interesting thing is that the daddy issues her book counterpart had (i.e., Ares second-guessing himself for sending one of his daughters on a quest) were given to Film!Percy.

Make way for the daughter of Ares, future drakon slayer!

She will cut you if you get in her way. Source: Camp Half Blood Wikia

Luke “Young Kevin Bacon” Castellan

A few other reviewers have drawn similarities between Jake Abel and the renowned actor, but that’s about where the similarities end. He’s Draco Malfoy smarmy and has dry wit (e.g., “Get off my roof”), but he should have been much more affable. As the future vessel of Michael Kronos, Adam Milligan Luke should have had reason to be sure that his plans will succeed and still had a friendly demeanour towards Percy and Annabeth. That being said, I did like how his appearance became more gaunt and colder compared to his first appearance like Tom Felton.

Left: From Lightning Thief. Right: From Sea of Monsters

Left: From Lightning Thief; Right: From Sea of Monsters

Dionysus “Whatever”

Stanley Tucci makes some brief cameos as the god of wine Dionysus, and has a few quips (including the offhand remark he gives when his wine turns into water that Christians have a god that can do the reverse) that make this movie somewhat enjoyable.

“[…] I’m thinking of turning you into a dolphin.” –Lightning Thief; Source: Contact Music

Hermes “the UPS Guy”

If there is one reason as to why you should watch this movie, this is it: ruggedly handsome godly Nathan Fillion graces us all with his presence as the patron god of commerce, roads, and thieves. His great comedic timing and his one line makes this movie.

Greatest television show ever so of course, cancelled.

-Hermes

Hermes is also quite mercurial, as when he asks to speak alone with Percy about his son Luke, he becomes dead serious about the topic before reverting back to his cheery self. This man seriously needs to make a reappearance in The Last Olympian if it ever comes out.

He really is ruggedly handsome, isn’t he? Source: Geek Tyrant

Closing Remarks

This movie could have been much better if it stayed truer to the books. The biggest offender in this project was the screenplay. There were so many inconsistencies despite its attempt to make up for inaccuracies creative liberties in the previous film.

Of course, this is assuming you’ve read the books. If you haven’t, this movie becomes marginally better despite somewhat stale characters and dumb decisions characters make. It’s bearable thanks to the contributions of Stanley Tucci and Nathan Fillion.

This movie could also have been improved by raising the MPAA rating from PG to PG-13. Percy Jackson is not a series for kids. Kids die at a very young age and they’re never in safe environments, not even at Camp Half-Blood (e.g., washing dishes with lava), so why do I get the feeling that the movie’s pulling its punches by not putting any of the characters in mortal danger?

Whoa, over 2500 words! I must have been really displeased with this movie. I think I’ll end it here. I’ll be crossing my fingers for Titan’s Curse, but…

I’m with you there, Hermes.

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6 thoughts on “[Review] Percy Jackson: Sea of One-Star Material and One-Scene Wonders

  1. Great post. I thought I might understand the movie better if I read the books but it seems like it’s even more confusing! I agree that the cyclops should have been able to move the boulder; it felt more like a video game in that he backed off because they were out of his activating range, not because they were actually out of reach. I’m glad you mentioned technology too because I’d forgotten I laughed out loud on seeing Annabeth with what was clearly a tablet in a case, as though the case would fool people into thinking it was a magical book. Your characterisation points fit too; it feels like Percy has self-doubt because, well, it’s a sequel and sequels are darker right? And I liked Tyson but I never would have guessed he was supposed to have a childlike fascination with the world – he came across more like Oz from Buffy.

    I find it interesting that we’ve both said in our reviews that we really wanted to like the movie; it just made it so hard!

    • チョコボくん

      Thanks for commenting!

      Yeah, in the books Tyson is supposed to be a baby Cyclops, which is like ten or twenty years younger than what Douglas Smith portrayed him to be. Percy does have a moment of trying to fit with the other campers when Tyson gets claimed in the book, but that’s about as far as it goes. If I remember correctly, Tyson tries to change more than Percy does.

      I was kind of expecting that the movie wouldn’t be as good as the book. I didn’t expect the huge changes they decided to make which made it worse than it could have been.

  2. Whew, long rant! I was pretty bothered by the mist as well, since humans naturally are covered by this mist. A guy at the coffee shop can be covered by the mist without the bottle, while Tyson can? I just…I don’t…
    I feel like Annabeth’s character was lost the most. I mean, I know all of them are pretty off, but her character bothers me the most on the screen. She just has so much more than what’s given to her on screen. It really saddens me. A lot. Sad panda 😦 Same with Tyson, I was a little confused how well he could speak and how savvy and proud (well, prouder) he was of himself. His character got pretty lost. And Percy? *long sigh*
    I love Luke so much in the movie. So, so much. I’m happy they changed his look in the second one as well 🙂 plus he’s purty, so no complaints there ha!
    Overall great post! I’m a bit nervous for the next movie, considering how much they’ve screwed up already. Almost makes me wanna put my hands up and say, “No, it’s okay. I’m out. Don’t continue them.” Shame.
    p.s. Ares is still not in the movies? I don’t understand!!

    • チョコボくん

      I’m glad you enjoyed it! Yeah, the inconsistency in the whole Mist debacle was annoying.

      Annabeth went through a lot of character un-development in the movie. She’s supposed to be badass and smart, not “damsel-in-distress” or anything. She didn’t have her knife at all!

      Like I mentioned in my review, Luke was okay. He was brooding, but at least his portrayal in the movie isn’t too far off from the book. As far as Ares goes, it seems like they didn’t want a lot of gods interacting in the movies at all, despite Ares being a key character in Lightning Thief.

      • Curse the lacking Annabeth in the movies. Curses!!
        That’s strange that they wouldn’t want too many of the gods’ presence in the movie, considering it’s all about greek gods…:P

      • チョコボくん

        I suppose the filmmakers were going for more of an action angle and all the scenes with the gods are, well, not.

        Unfortunately it’s too late to add the Ares fight from the first movie…

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