Darn that Harry Potter. Or, more accurately, darn that J.K. Rowling, who created the boy wizard and so brilliantly devised the magical world he inhabits.
Darn them because they made creating a satisfying teen fantasy-adventure movie look so easy, when it's not.
For the latest example of how difficult it can be, look to "Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters," the second movie based on author Rick Riordan's series about teen demigods battling peril in the modern world.
If you remember the first installment, "Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief," young Percy (played by Logan Lerman) discovered that his mother had a fling with Poseidon, god of the sea, and because of that, Percy possesses superpowers. Percy relocated to Camp Halfblood, home and Hogwarts-like training ground for other demigods, to learn of his powers and a destiny that says he will either save the world or be instrumental in its destruction.
Fun fact: The first "Percy Jackson" movie was directed by Chris Columbus, who also directed the first two "Harry Potter" films. Comparisons, alas, end there.
This new story begins with Camp Halfblood being attacked by Luke (Jake Abel), the rebellious son of Hermes, with the help of a ferocious robot bull. Percy and his newly discovered half-brother, Tyson ("Big Love's" Douglas Smith), a cyclops, fend off the bull. They succeed, but not before Luke damages a magical tree that protects the camp from the outside world.
Percy's friend Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) discovers that to repair the tree, they must retrieve the Golden Fleece, which is held by a nasty cyclops, Polyphemus. So Percy and Annabeth go on a quest for the fleece, aided by Tyson and Percy's satyr protector, Grover (Brandon T. Jackson). But Luke also seeks the fleece as part of a plot to revive Kronos, the father of Zeus, Poseidon and Hades who would, if brought back from the underworld, destroy the world.
Director Thor Freudenthal's résumé consists of breezy kids fare ("Hotel for Dogs" and the first "Diary of a Wimpy Kid"), and there's little that's dark or dangerous here. Only the brightest colors of the Crayola box are used, whether to sketch out the characters' motivations or illuminate the cartoony visual effects.
There are a few high spots. Stanley Tucci gets in some good lines as Mr. D., the camp's wine-loving head teacher, and Nathan Fillion provides some comic relief as Hermes (who's reimagined as CEO of an Olympian shipping service). And Lerman and Daddario are engaging, bringing shades of humanity to these young demigod characters and making "Sea of Monsters" a bit less shallow.
'Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters'
The teen demigod returns for another quest in a slightly dumbed-down adventure.
Where • Theaters everywhere.
When • Opens Wednesday, Aug. 7
Rating • PG for fantasy action violence, some scary images and mild language.
Running time • 106 minutes.