Percy Jackson: The Experts Speak

Yes, this is the point in the summer when I outsource my critical judgment to my kids. Plus: bonus Smurfs coverage.
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20th Century Fox

So, Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters.

Based on the second installment of Rick Riordan's series of novels (think Harry Potter knockoff with a dusting of Greek mythology), the sequel to 2010's The Lightning Thief picks up where its predecessor left off. Our trio of teenage protagonists Harry, Hermione, and Ron Percy, Annabeth, and Grover are busily honing their superhuman skills at their home away from home, Hogwarts Camp Halfblood, a secret sanctuary where wizards demigods are safe from the prying eyes of ordinary folk.

But trouble, of course, is brewing. Thalia's Tree, which protects Camp Halfblood from invading monsters, has been poisoned, and the only hope for a cure is the Golden Fleece, hidden away in the "Sea of Monsters." (That's the Bermuda Triangle to you and me.) So our young heroes, joined by Percy's comical half-brother, a Cyclops named Tyson, set out to...

Oh, who am I kidding. It's that point in the summer again, when I'm at a complete loss for anything useful to say about a kid's movie sequel that doesn't aspire to be anything more than a kid's movie sequel. So I'm using my once-a-year lifeline and calling in the genuine experts: Alex (as in Alexandra), who turned eight yesterday, and Tom, who turns 10 in a week and a half (and has usefully read all the Percy Jackson books multiple times).

They grow up so fast! The last time I consulted Alex and Tom it was for Ice Age: Continental Drift. The next time it will probably be for a Lars von Trier film. In any case, this is where those of you who are uninterested in preadolescent movie criticism should probably bail.

(At Alex's request, Tom answered most of the questions first.)


If you had to describe the new Percy Jackson movie in one word, what would it be?

Tom: I would describe it as either exciting, awesome, or kind of brilliant, because I think it was very well set up.

As good as the first movie, or better?

Tom: A lot better than the first movie. It just seemed that the first movie didn't have as much happening in it. The second movie is like--boom, pow--it starts out with a really big thing, when they're showing--

Alex: A backstory. [ed. No, I had no idea she knew this word.]

Tom: ...a backstory about how Thalia became a tree and guarded the camp.

What about you, Alex?

Alex: I think it's better than the first because it's more exciting, and it has a lot more action all the way through.

What was your favorite part of the movie?

Tom: Either when Percy was blowing a hole in Charybdis's gut, or when he was slicing off Kronos's limbs. [My son, future Tarantino aficionado.] They left out a couple parts of the book but they also added some new parts. All in all, I think it was a little better than the book.

Alex: I think my favorite part was probably the prologue [nope, didn't know she knew this one either] with Thalia. I usually like kind of sad parts, and it's like she's giving her life to save three others.

Who was your favorite character?

Alex: Probably Thalia, even though she didn't have that big a role.

Tom: I liked Tyson best, far and away. He dealt with Annabeth's being mean to him--he just, like, shrugged it off. He was hard to kill, but it was also hard for his feelings to be hurt. And he would not give up on Percy and his friends.

He had a lot of jokey parts, too.

"I found the manticore very scary."

Tom: Yeah, I liked it when he was like, "Bad cow"--punch. [This was during a fight with the Colchis Bull.] And I liked when Tyson is in the boat, holding the magical wind container and the boat is flying along, and then the boat suddenly stops and Annabeth's like, why did we stop, and Tyson comes back empty handed and says, "I probably should have held on with both hands."

Were there any parts of the movie that you thought were scary?

Tom: Not really. When I first saw those things in the ocean and I thought they were shark fins, I'm like, "Oh God, you guys are dead." And then when I realized they were Charybdis's teeth I'm like, "You are even more dead."

Alex: Well, I thought there were a lot of scary parts because I'd never seen it before. Like Charybdis, and also that giant scorpion-tailed guy--

Tom: The manticore.

Alex: I found the manticore very scary.

If there were something that you could change about the movie, what would it be?

Tom: I didn't really like that early part at Camp Halfblood when Percy and Clarisse were both climbing that training tower--it was okay, I guess, but they didn't really need it. It just showed that Clarisse was more self-absorbent [way too good to correct] than Percy, and we're going to see more of that later anyway.

Alex: Well, I would appreciate it if they didn't put zombies everywhere. And if the Gray Ladies didn't look so creepy.

Other thoughts on the movie?

Tom: If you have, like four-year-olds--four- or five-year-olds--it might be kind of risky taking them to it. Some of it can get pretty scary. But if your kids are especially brave and they like Greek mythology, they'll like this a lot.

Alex: Yeah, I think five and under would be too young.

What was your favorite movie of the year so far?

Tom: I liked Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters best, and then either Smurfs 2 or Despicable Me 2.

Alex: I think Percy Jackson and the Smurfs were my two favorites.

So you guys really liked The Smurfs 2? [note: I haven't seen the movie. I love my children, but there are limits.]

Alex: In Smurfs 2, there are two new Smurfs that aren't blue--the Naughties--and Gargamel creates them like he created Smurfette. And they're trying to get Smurfette to tell them the secret formula to make them blue.

Why do they want to be blue?

Tom: The Naughties want to be blue because they think gray is a really bad color. But also Gargamel wants them to be blue so he can take away the essence from them and put it in his wand. He thinks he'll be all [villain voice:] "I'm so powerful, I will rule the world, ha, ha, ha!" He's that kind of guy, you know? The guys that are evil maniacs?

So if people are trying to pick a movie to go see this week...

Tom: This is just some advice. If you're a family and you want to see a good movie, and don't know whether to watch Percy Jackson or The Smurfs--well, if you have some young kids that get scared pretty easily, The Smurfs 2 might be a better choice. But if you have kids that are pretty old and they like action, I think Percy Jackson would be a better choice.

Alex: Yes, that's it exactly.

Note: This review is intended for entertainment purposes only. Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters is currently at 26 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, and The Smurfs 2 is at 12 percent. So as much as I adore my kids, their critical enthusiasm is probably best taken with a grain of salt.


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Christopher Orr is a senior editor and the principal film critic at The Atlantic. He has written on movies for The New Republic, LA Weekly, Salon, and The New York Sun, and has worked as an editor for numerous publications.

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