Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief – Review


Clash of the Titans (for kids)

Chris Columbus has lost it. This news is sure to sadden Sheldon Cooper who celebrates Columbus Day each year with a marathon session of Gremlins, The Goonies and Young Sherlock Holmes. But after Harry Potter came along the director hasn’t been the same. Getting the boot after the second installment of the famed literary franchise, Columbus directed a big-screen version of the hit Broadway show Rent as well as wrote the screenplay for Christmas with the Kranks.

Still reeling after the bomb that was last year’s I Love You, Beth Cooper, Columbus takes the easy route by helming yet another young adult fantasy franchise. The ads for Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief point out that it is from the director of the first two Harry Potter films. So already the expectations are lofty.

It’s a kid-sized epic where wizards have been replaced by Greek mythology and the Gothic architecture of Hogwarts is exchanged for the summer camp retreat of Camp Half-Blood. (One camp over is Camp Blood, but they don’t reveal that in the travel brochure.) Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is a special kid. All parents tell their children that they’re “special,” but Percy truly is. He’s a demigod: teenage son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd) and Sally Jackson (Catherine Keener). A few months after he was born Poseidon bolted to Mount Olympus. What nerve; he impresses Sally with his massive trident then leaves after she birthed him a son.

Percy suffers from ADHD and dyslexia but finds that he’s most comfortable when sitting underwater for seven minutes at a time. Like father, like son, eh? His best friend is Grover (Brandon T. Jackson, aka Tropic Thunder‘s Alpa Chino). He walks with crutches but don’t call him handicapped. It’s all a cover really; Grover is a satyr and it is his job to project Percy in case of danger. Percy’s teacher, Mr. Brunner (Pierce Brosnan), also keeps a watchful eye on him. Those who complain about their teacher being a real horse’s ass, well Mr. Brunner is actually a centaur. So in this case you can say it and not worry about a week’s worth of detention.

While it would seem that everyone but Percy is in on the joke, the movie wastes little time in making the demigod revelation known. Soon Percy is facing off against mystical beasts and otherworldly creatures. As the title suggests, Zeus’s lightning bolt has been stolen. We are never given a clear reason why he thinks Poseidon’s son, his nephew, stole it, so we must suspend disbelief. Though, even a god as powerful as Zeus should know that a lightning bolt in the hands of a water god doesn’t seem right.

Any chance of an intriguing mystery is lost among the special effects sequences and blatant product placement of PlayStation and iPod. Honestly, for a second there I thought we were going to see one of the demigods playing God of War III.

Sitting there watching The Lightning Thief I half pondered the question on if it was better to be a wizard or a God. Nobody ever accuses anybody of a having a wizard complex, though the title of God just sounds so much better.

Outside of the Greek mythology angle, there’s just too much Harry Potter lurking within the story. The personalities of the three lead demigod characters – Percy, Grover and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), daughter of Athena – are eerily similar to the triumvirate of Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger. Percy is as insecure as Harry, Grover is the comic relief and with Annabeth, heir to the Goddess of Wisdom, she thinks she knows everything.

Even with the Harry Potter similarities, Chris Columbus tries too hard to make the movie be an entertaining children’s feature. The three leads do little to make their performances memorable. Better are the supporting players. Uma Thurman does a nice turn as Medusa, who Percy has to vanquish if he’s going to have any chance of making it as a demigod. Steve Coogan as Hades, brother of Zeus and Poseidon, has the funny visual gag of dressing in classic rocker garb. (When it comes to being Hades, I guess it’s better to burn up than fade away.) It’s a cheeky moment to be had, as is the music cue that accompanies Percy, Grover and Annabeth as they try to find the entrance to Hades.

The verdict is still out on if Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief will be the start of new franchise for 20th Century Fox. If it does take off, I expect more of the same if Columbus is at the helm. Which is to say it’ll be a trite children’s fantasy that lacks the wonder and amazement that made Columbus’s earlier works so endearing.

Director: Chris Columbus
Notable Cast:Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Pierce Brosnan, Uma Thurman, Sean Bean, Kevin McKidd, Catherine Keener, Steve Coogan
Writer(s):Craig Titley, based on the novel written by Rick Riordan

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