Circeland has seen better days. An amusement park of the mythological sort, it once boasted a glorious roller coaster and Ferris wheel, games and delights designed to entertain crowds of gods and demigods. But now — that is, near the end of Percy Jackson: Sea of Monsters — the place is abandoned, grim and grey, the rides dilapidated and the grounds barren. As they approach from offshore, Percy (Logan Lerman) and his halfblood friends remark the wreckage. Still, they remain intrepid, and once they make land, clambering into a rickety ride named The Plummet of Death, they begin to sing, “It’s a small world after all.”
It’s a little cute, this joke. It’s also a little sad, given that Circeland is played here by a real-life abandoned amusement park, namely, the East New Orleans Six Flags Amusement Park, yet un-rebuilt following Hurricane Katrina. Aptly scary and dark, the place sets up for the halfbloods’ battle against an especially nasty giant Cyclops Polyphemus (Robert Maillet), who makes it his business to eat every halfblood who comes his way. Nevertheless, Percy — along with best girlfriend Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), best rival Clarisse (Leven Rambin), daughter of Ares, and newly discovered half-brother Tyson (Douglas Smith) — makes his way to the bottom of the Plummet of Death, where Polyphemus is keeping both the Golden Fleece the kids mean to retrieve, and oh yes, the satyr Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), who happens to be Percy’s best boy friend.
The ensuing contest between the kids and the monster takes up a few minutes of set-piece action, during which the kids outleap and outrun Polyphemus, dashing about his lair and tossing the Fleece between them in a not-very-elaborate game of keepaway. This frustrates Polyphemus, but he’s creaky and slow, as well as blind in his one eye. In this, the Cyclops embodies the problem of the Circeland, and more broadly, the problem of decay and abandonment too. He’s a relic, left behind. Once revered — or at least feared seriously — now he seems mostly easily dispatched, a bit of the past no longer relevant for this generation.
That’s not to say that every instance of the past is so dismissed: Percy spends a bit of time, for instance, worrying about his relationship with his dad, the god of the seas Poseidon, who doesn’t respond to his repeated efforts to communicate (it’s worth noting that his mother, the very nice and infinitely patient human played by Catherine Keener in the first film, doesn’t even get a mention in this sequel). Sea of Monsters restructures Percy’s feelings of abandonment into a life lesson, which is to say, he learns that even if he feels lonely or confused by his absentee dad, that’s okay, because he’s really en route to feeling empowered to take control of his own future, to change the fate he’s been told might be his.
To articulate and also cast doubt on that prophesy, Percy’s father figures — the irascible director of Camp Halfblood Mr. D (Stanley Tucci) and the sometimes-wise centaur Chiron (Anthony Head) — tend not to offer very convincing answers as to what’s in store for him. He gets better advice from Hermes (Nathan Fillion, whose very appearance counts as this film’s best special effect), the father of Percy’s perpetually grumpy-boy enemy Luke (Jake Abel). Abiding on earth under the guise of running a UPS store, Hermes is both fleet and cynical, suggesting that Percy find his own way, and not only react, flatfooted, as Luke appears condemned to doing.
Luke’s vengeance against his absentee dad consists of resurrecting the worst dad ever, Kronos (a digitized demon played by Robert Knepper), most famous in classical mythology for eating his children in order to preserve his power. Poseidon, Zeus, and Hades all escaped that fate, and instead sent Kronos into a Zod-like oblivion; when he comes back to earth on that abandoned amusement park, he’s especially interested in punishing Poseidon’s son, which makes for some blustering and pounding.
Lucky for Percy, with all his fretting, he’s actually not assumed the fate that might have been his. Rather, he’s aligned himself not with fathers but with his peers, and most especially, with Tyson. (Their adventures are episodic, sometimes fun and sometimes just goofy, with effects ranging from charming to unconvincing.) That Tyson is initially rejected and ridiculed by the other camp kids specifically because he’s a Cyclops allows Percy the chance to show his good sense, as a member of the next generation who can leave the bad past behind and open himself to a multiculti future. As Percy fights back against Kronos, the ultimate embodiment of he self-interested past, he’s slammed and banged repeatedly into the rubble of Circeland. And so Sea of Monsters illustrates the costs of forgetting, of abandoning, of not seeing the future.