Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
Film review by: Witney Seibold
Ever since “Harry Potter,” dozens if not hundreds of authors have been trying to recapture the magic, so to speak, by launching a series of fantasy-based children’s novels.“The Spiderwick Chronicles” comes immediately to mind. “City of Ember,” “Inkheart,” “Cirque du Freak: The Vampire’s Assistant,” and even “Coraline.” All about young protagonists who find themselves unexpectedly embroied in a world of magic and monters, and they, only they, can save the world from evil. “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief” based on the books by Rick Riordan, is merely the next in this line.
In a way, I admire the imitators more than the original. Not for their stalwart originality or purity of vision, but their tenacity in attempting to create a world that can outdo its predecessors. “Percy Jackson” does not outdo its predecessors, but it is a very entertaining movie with fun fantasy conceits, fun classical references, a light, friendly tone, and swift pace that makes for a surprisingly enjoyable, if not necessarily bracing film. It was directed by Chris Columbus, who directed the first two of the “Harry Potter” novels, so we know we’re going to be on pretty solid ground.
(This humble critic feels that the second of the “Harry Potter” movies is the best of the series, but I realize I am in the minority there).
In a prologue, we learn that the Greek gods of old are still around, and are still in control of the universe. They don’t comment on the fact that they no longer have any real worshippers, but nevermind. Zeus (Sean Bean) is mad at Poseidon (Kevin McKidd) for stealing his lightning bolt. Poseidon did not steal the lightning bolt, but Zeus demands it be returned by a certain time, else there be a war on Olympus. Ticking clock, check.
We are then introduced to Perseus “Percy” Jackson (Logan Lerman) who is an ordinary high school student, struggling with his dyslexia, and who has an affinity for water and swimming. He lives with his doting mom (an underused Catherine Keener) and abusive stepfather (an even more underused Joe Pantoliano). While on a field trip with his best friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), Percy is unexpectedly attacked by a harpy, which leads him to a series of revelations: 1) that he is the son of Poseidon, 2) that Grover is a satyr, 3) that his teacher (Pierce Brosnan) is actually a centaur in disguise 4) that the Greek Gods have hundreds of children each, all demigods, who meet at a special camp that helps them shore up their latent superpowers (kind of like the school in “X-Men,” or Hogwarts). 5) that he has to nurture his powers, and 6) that he is accused of stealing Zeus’ thunder.
It’s unclear as to why demigods need to “train” for anything. Are they expecting another Iliad? Why use swords and helmets of ancient design? But nevermind.
All the demigods have this in common: they were raised by single parents. The gods, you see, are fickle, and like to leave a string of unclaimed children in their randy wake. I liked the resentment that the teens had for their missing supernatural parents.
Anyway, Jackson teams up with a daughter of Athena named Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) and with Grover, and the three of them set off on a road trip to find Zeus’ thunderbolt, and to rescue Percy’s mom, who has been kidnapped by Hades (Steve Coogan). Road trip, check. Chaste sexual tension, check. Scavenger hunt, check. Easy to understand goal, check.
Medusa (Uma Thurman) lives at a road stop, and sees her reflection in the back of an iPhone. The Land of the Lotus Eaters is a casino in Vegas. This seems like a cute and fun way to introduce the old mythology to young kids.
Overall, the film is pretty preposterous, and could have been cleverer and better paced, but is still surprisingly enjoyable, mostly due to Columbus’ able and serviceable direction, and to Lerman’s fresh-faced performance. I’d encourage you to take your kids to this film rather than, say The Chipmunks sequel.