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Review: Familiar-feeling 'Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters' manages to stay afloat

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Three years after scoring a modest hit with "Percy Jackson & Olympians: The Lightning Thief," the titular teen hero is back again with "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters," a fantasy adventure sequel that modernizes Greek mythology for yet another mystical teen tale. It's not a perfect movie, by any means, but for what it is, "Sea of Monsters" has a nice, steady flow that should keep audiences engaged throughout.

Based on the second book in author Rick Riordan's bestselling teen book series, "Sea of Monsters" begins in Camp Half-Blood, a safe haven and training ground for the likes of Percy (Logan Lerman) and his fellow teen demigods. The mystical land is protected by a forest and powerful tree that embodies the spirit of a young Half-Blood who died in a tragic standoff with a cyclops years earlier.

But when Poseidon's son Percy's evil nemesis -- Luke (Jake Abel), the son of Hermes --finds a way to breach the protective force field, a near-fatal blow is dealt to the tree. In order to save the towering guardian of good, Percy and his friends Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and newly discovered brother, Tyson (Douglas Smith) are forced to go to the deadly "Sea of Monsters" -- known to humans as the Bermuda Triangle -- to recover the Golden Fleece, which will provide the powers needed to heal the tree and effectively save the camp.

See the trailer for "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" below.

Director Thor Freudenthal takes over the directors' reigns from "The Lightning Thief" helmer Chris Columbus for "Sea of Monsters," and in turn, he a creates bouncy, fun tone that mimics the atmosphere he mined from the original source material. Naturally, not everybody is going to like book-to-film adaptation, so the best way to enter the movie is to try to separate the two completely different mediums.

Of course, fans and even non-fans of the "Percy Jackson" books will find endless comparisons to the "Harry Potter" movie series with "Sea of Monsters," especially the madcap proceedings at times that made the second Potter film, "The Chamber of Secrets," such a joy. It would be nonsense to try to compare "Sea of Monsters" to anything "Potter" in terms of quality, but despite its familiar narrative, "Sea of Monsters," for its intended audience, works.

The good thing is, the visual effects are impressive, but not to the extent where they swallow up the story or its characters. Particularly stunning is a back story scene that tells the story of Kronos -- who figures prominently into the plot as it thickens -- through panes of what mimics stained glass.

Lerman, who gave a star-making turn last year in "The Perks of Being a Wallflower," is easily the standout of the young cast by delivering a character who is convincing in his complexity. The film as a whole, though, is bolstered by the presence of Anthony Stewart Head (in for Pierce Brosnan from the first film) as Camp Half-Blood's activities director, the Centaur Chiron; and the always-great Stanley Tucci as Dionysus, the God of Wine and director of the camp. Nathan Fillion also has an amusing turn as a guilt-ridden Hermes.

Interview: "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters" star Logan Lerman

Standing to gain the most from "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters," though, is Leven Rambin, who gets plenty more to work with in a considerably larger role compared to her turn as the ill-fated Tribute, Glimmer, in "The Hunger Games." As one of Percy's Camp Half-Blood rivals, Rambin's Clarisse could have been annoying, but she instead turns the competitive character into one you love to hate.

Ultimately, while "Sea of Monsters" is predictable, it's a good enough yarn to want to make you see the story through. It ends with a great cliffhanger, which undoubtedly will be determined by the box office take of this film. It could either mark a cruel end to the series or a solid beginning to the next chapter.

"Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters," rated PG, 2 1/2 stars out of 4.

What other local critics are saying ...

Chris Hewitt of the Pioneer Press says in his 2 star review that the film isn't "worthless,"but "it's still a 'Harry Potter' knock-off, with Greek gods instead of wizards, but it feels more welcome now because we're not getting any more 'Potters.'"

Star Tribune contributing critic Andrew Wagaman gives the film 1 1/2 stars, praising Freudenthal for focusing more on the characters than the visual effects, adding, "the problem is that there’s not much to the characters."

Bring Me The News film critic Tim Lammers is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and annually votes on the Critics Choice Movie Awards. Locally, he also reviews films on “KARE 11 News at 11.” As a feature writer, Tim has interviewed well over 1,000 major actors and filmmakers throughout his career and his work is syndicated nationwide.

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