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Percy Jackson:

Sea of Monsters & Elysium

August 15, 2013

Percy Jackson:

Sea of Monsters (**) PG

I must confess that I’m not really the intended audience for Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters and that will probably go a long way in explaining my lack of enthusiasm for it. That audience would be my twelve-year old son. Since he isn’t around at the moment and hasn’t seen the film as I write these words, I guess I’ll have to do.

The character of Percy Jackson is both the narrator and chief protagonist in author Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series of books. He’s also the central character in the sequel to that series The Heroes of Olympus. Sea of Monsters is not the character’s first on-screen appearance. That would have been the 2010 film Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, directed by the helmer of the first two Harry Potter films, Chris Columbus. Lightning Thief underperformed at the box office, leaving one to ask why the need for a sequel was felt so strongly.  Perhaps it was because 20th Century Fox paid such a large amount for the rights to these books that not making at least one more attempt to find an audience was unthinkable.
Although I missed the first film I can honestly say in regard to the second installment, Harry Potter it ain’t.

The first film revolved mostly around the Percy Jackson character coming to terms with the fact that his mother had a fling with the Greek God Poseidon, resulting in his birth. The rest of the film had Percy going through the paces as he attempted to rescue his kidnapped mother from the land of the dead and retrieve the Greek God Zeus’ stolen thunderbolt.

Percy, at sea with some monsters

The latest installment begins with Percy at Camp Half Blood, a summer camp for the offspring of Greek Gods and Goddesses, receiving his marching orders to retrieve a stolen golden fleece, which is located in the Sea of Monsters (i.e., The Bermuda Triangle). Demigod Luke has plans to use the fleece for his own evil schemes and such but we all know that Percy will eventually save the day. It’s just a matter of how many detours it will take to get there.

Diary of a Wimpy Kid director Thor Freudenthal takes over direction here and does the most he can with the material but the film just has a sense of staleness. There’s also a lack of a sense of wonder, something that I’m sure isn’t a problem in the books.

I’m happy that so many young boys on the cusp of adolescence have taken to the Percy Jackson series of books. I’m all for anything that will encourage youngsters to read but I have a sneaking feeling that when they finally get around to seeing what’s been done to Sea of Monsters, they’re going to wish they had stuck with those books instead.

Elysium (***) R

South African born filmmaker, Neil Blomkamp’s first feature, District 9, seemingly came out of nowhere four summers ago. That film, made on a miniscule budget, caught on both critically and commercially, putting the writer-director rightfully on the map. After a longer hiatus than I was expecting, Blomkamp has finally returned with his second feature, Elysium. Much like District 9, Elysium is a dystopian sci-fi view of a world in peril in the not too distant future. What I like about Elysium is this shows real growth in terms of Blomkamp’s filmmaking ability. While I found District 9 to be enjoyable for what it was, there were times when I felt that its shoestring budget presented it with limitations, in terms of scope.

Now that Blomkamp has been afforded a much larger budget, his vision can be seen in its unfettered glory and it allows the viewer to witness Blomkamp’s growth as a filmmaker. He utilizes his budget, making sure every dollar is up there on screen. Of course, it also helps that he has a good story to tell.

The story concerns a future world in the post 21st century where, we are told in one of those prologues that we often seen in films like this, that the world has become uninhabitable.

Matt Damon in Elysium

To be specific, the year is 2154. The haves of the world are afforded the opportunity to live on a space station that is referred to as Elysium. The have-nots, well, they have to do the best they can with the dirty air and atrocious living conditions that the future earth has to offer.

Enter into the picture, Max Da Costa (Matt Damon), who is one of the have-nots. He works in some sort of factory assembling robots. When he is exposed to radiation in an accident at work, he is given five days to live. Since Elysium has the technological capabilities of healing people, Max accepts a deadly mission to hack information from those who control Elysium and get it to the black market, in exchange for a free trip to the space station. Max’s childhood sweetheart Frey (Alice Braga), and her terminally ill daughter also need the healing powers Elysium can provide, which presents quite a conundrum for Max as the stakes get higher.

Elysium isn’t a perfect film. I would have preferred more info on Frey’s character and Jodie Foster’s role as Delacourt, the Secretary of Defense, is woefully underwritten. Still, Elysium is one of the most entertaining sci-fi experiences I’ve had in a while. Watching the film, I couldn’t help but think that this was the film I wanted when I sat through the Tom Cruise film Oblivion earlier in the year. Perhaps Mr. Cruise will consider teaming up with Mr. Blomkamp sometime in the future. Now that’s something I would really like to see.

Both of these movies are playing at area theaters and at the Carmike Cinemas in Hickory.

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