Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)
As the highly esteemed, much-loved Harry Potter phenomenon reaches its over-due end — with Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 (2011), the last picture in the unyielding seven film saga — it seemed that Twentieth Century Fox had already moved in on Warner Bros. turf, placing their sights on yet another admired kid-lit adventure chain to translate to the silver screen, in the hope of filling the Hogwarts wizard’s soon-to-be-empty shoes: Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series. With Chris Columbus helmed to direct, the man primarily responsible for kick-starting the ever-popular Harry Potter franchise — with Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, back in 2001 — Fox had undoubtedly set the wheels in motion for crafting that perfect successful ‘family fantasy’ formula that worked so well for Warner Bros., with Fox eager to generate a similar sense of spectacle and awe within the Percy Jackson chronicle.
It’s the 21st century, but the gods of Mount Olympus and an assortment of monsters are secretly living amongst us. When his lightning bolt is stolen, father of the gods, Zeus (Sean Bean), places Poseidon’s demigod son, Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman), as the prime suspect, giving only fourteen days for his bolt to be returned, otherwise threatening to initiate a war amongst the gods. All the while, an unsuspecting 17-year old teenager, Percy — though in the original book, Percy Jackson is 12-years old — who is told he has dyslexia and ADHD, is visiting The Museum of Metropolitan of Art for a school expedition, when he is innocently attacked by a Fury — a female spirit of justice and vengeance in Greek Mythology — disguised as his substitute teacher. Percy’s physically handicapped best friend, Grover Underwood (Brandon T. Jackson), soon reveals that he is Percy’s protector and that Percy is, in fact, a demigod, son of Poseidon, with his dyslexia and ADHD being part of his developing god-like abilities. After evading the Fury, the pair frantically rush off to Percy’s house and together with Percy’s mother, Sally (Catherine Keener), drive to Camp Half-Blood — an Olympian demigod training facility — to keep Percy safe from harm while honing in on his developing powers.
Before they reach the camp however, Sally is attacked by a Minotaur and vanishes before Percy can save her. At the camp, Percy discovers that his wheelchair bound teacher, Mr. Brunner — an exceedingly miscast Pierce Brosnan — is really a Centaur named Chiron, who is the activities coordinator at the campground. Beginning his demigod preparation, Percy soon befriends the courageously brave, proud and strong-minded — though equally stubborn — Annabeth Chase (Alexandra Daddario) — demigod daughter of Athena. When Hades (Steve Coogan), brother of Zeus and Poseidon and ruler of the Underworld — who wants the missing lighting bolt for own wicked devices — assaults the camp in search for the bolt, Percy discovers that his mother is being held captive in Hades’ soul-harboring quarters. Percy quickly decides to embark on a cross-country journey to catch the true lightning thief and save his mother in the process. Grover and Annabeth aid Percy, joining him on this perilous quest. Strong-spirited athlete Luke Castellan (Jake Abel) — demigod son of Hermes, God of thieves, merchants and athletes — helps the gang by handing Percy a powerful shield of his own as protection, along with several other Greek mythological inspired goodies to assist the protagonists on their voyage. Soon enough, Percy, Grover and Annabeth find themselves caught between fierce and quarreling gods, as the friends journey to unravel a mystery more powerful than the Olympians themselves.
While the first Percy Jackson & the Olympians outing does everything in its grasp to engender a triumphant formula, the film predominantly falls flat in achieving that magic spark the first Harry Potter film pulled off so well; it’s not that The Lightning Thief is a bad film, just somewhat lackluster and forgetful. Greek mythology has been done to death within the Hollywood film circuit, and with Warner Bros. releasing Clash of the Titans (2010) several months before Percy Jackson; the subject material seems all too proverbial. There are, of course, the customary Greek inspired creatures on exhibit, we see the cursed Medusa, complete with squirming, venomous CGI snakes in place of hair — played by an unconvincing Uma Thurman, Batman & Robin (1997) — and the menacing Minotaur, who possesses the head of a bull on the body of a man. The only mythological creature that legitimately stands out is the ancient serpent-like water beast with reptilian traits, the Hydra, possessing many heads — and for each head cut off, two more grow back in its place. The short-lived Hydra sequence is by far one of the film’s most heart-stopping moments, as this Hydra’s design is sinisterly baleful and menacing, with its multiplying heads and fire-breathing talent, the danger is amped up and so is the picture’s exhilaration.
The creature and set designs are all decent but don’t necessarily stick out as being overly impressive or noteworthy; Camp Half-Blood comes off as an Olympian version of a Summer Camp inspired by Camp Crystal Lake while Hades’ Underworld quarters appears to resemble the back-stage dressing-room of a rock-star, rather than the dwelling of the dead. Screenwriter Craig Titley’s first attempt at a major motion picture adapted screenplay feels more workmanlike than delightfully inspired. Then, much like the Potter films, which starred a profusion of British personalities, Percy Jackson is bombarded with all the familiar actors and actresses money can buy; we have the likes of Rosario Dawson, Sin City (2005), questioningly playing Persephone — the goddess queen of the Underworld and wife of the god Hades — to Joe Pantoliano, The Matrix (1999), doing his customary slime-ball thing, as Sally’s odorous and indolent boyfriend, Gabe Ugliano. Regrettably, all these heavyweights fail to bring any real depth, personality or finesse to their respective roles, thus making these secondary players feel hollow and expressively senseless.
Surprisingly though, it is the relatively unfamiliar teen actors who shine brighter than the ‘stars’ and truly boost the film, giving it that glimmer it needs to succeed where most other rudiments fall slightly short. Logan Lerman, 3:10 to Yuma (2007), possesses a boy-like charm as the heroic Percy Jackson, doing a credible job in shouldering the picture, portraying this demigod with a sense of humanity and nobility. Brandon T. Jackson, Tropic Thunder (2008), supplies honest comic relief and sincere spirit as Percy’s companion Grover Underwood, a satyr in disguise — a mythological Greek being that is half goat and half human with the upper body of a human and the legs and horns of a goat. And let’s not forget the stunning Annabeth Chase, convincingly played by the piercing blue-eyed beauty and relative newcomer Alexandra Daddario, embodying Annabeth’s strength and sensitivity with sheer poise and perfection.
One commendable aspect of The Lightning Thief is however, its standalone storyline value, with no obvious setup for a sequel or a series-long arc, probably partially motivated by Fox, who didn’t want to disappoint fans of the book series if Percy Jackson was unsuccessful at the box-office, unlike New Line’s The Golden Compass back in 2007, leaving audiences and enraged fans irate and hanging after the film failed to generate financial victory.
While lacking the wonder and vigor of the Harry Potter saga with its seen-it-all-before sort of feel, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, is a well-made large-scale adventure that does manage to entertain, thanks to its unlikely key cast, relatively good effects and few roaring moments — the climatic battle with Percy and his opponent zipping over New York, in winged high-tops, taken from Hermes’ closet, and blasting at one another with mighty powers, does have a certain hint of coolness. Although director Columbus does everything in his control to breath life into this new franchise — swimming in familiar waters — the picture is most likely quickly forgotten, though young-adult fans of the books will probably enjoy seeing this feat splashed up on the big screen with all of its mythology, action and special effects. An attempt at stealing Harry Potter’s ‘lightning,’ the film opens with the roaring of thunder, but is shortly followed by an absence of lightning.
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by S-Littner
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is released through 20th Century Fox Australia