2/22/10

Review: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (2010)


Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is adapted from books by Rick Riordan which I have not read. So without implicating the books, I'll quickly diagnose the film as a Harry Potter ripoff. Of course it's directed by the same director as the first two Harry Potter films, Chris Columbus, who used to make pretty cool movies like Adventures in Babysitting or Home Alone. More than anything, now, he seems to want to be in charge of a franchise. Maybe he's found one.

Percy Jackson isn't bad, it's just extremely lazy. Par for the course for big effects movies lately, it has spectacular effects which are worth the price of admission, and it largely ignores character development and dialogue. The result is beautiful if underwhelming in terms of story.

Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is a high school student we don't know anything about, except that he lives with his mother (Catherine Keener) and mean, crude stepfather (Joe Pantoliano, wasted), and doesn't know who his father is.

We know who his father is, however, as we watch a confrontation between Zeus (Sean Bean), the head of the Gods, and Percy's father, Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), the God of the Ocean, who threaten each other with war if Zeus doesn't get back his stolen lightning bolt, which somebody apparently has fingered Percy for, or if anybody threatens Percy, from Poseidon's point of view.

Cue the harpies! Yeah, there isn't long to wait until we snap out of the non-existent story of Percy's normal life and into the mythological wonders on display. Impatient with leaving things to the Gods to decide, all manner of strange beasties begin the attack against Percy, looking for that bad lightning bolt. They must think they have a pretty good informant, an idea which might have been interesting if explored. Why do they think they have a good informant? I couldn't tell you.

Percy himself is pretty unfazed by this mythological eruption, or by the response of his mythology professor, Mr. Brunner, an academic in a wheelchair who transmogrifies into Chiron, a half-horse, or Centaur, or his best friend, Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), who transmogrifies into Percy's "protector," a half-goat, or Satyr. After all, if we wanted to see how Chris Columbus thinks someone might react to their entire conception of the world being altered by supernatural forces at work, we could always watch Harry Potter and the Sorceror's Stone again.

Still, Lerman, Jackson and Alexandra Daddario as Annabeth, a daughter of Athena, do yeoman acting work being likable while having a semi-entertaining quest around the country trying to find some magical objects which will help them travel to the Underworld, rescue some people, and try to prove that Percy is not the lightning thief. Their time at the Lotus Casino is the highlight of the quest, a trippy MTV-inspired interlude which transcends the bounds of the rest of the plot by far.

Lots of fine actors' talents are wasted along the way, including Uma Thurman's as Medusa, Steve Coogan's as Hades and Rosario Dawson's as his wife Persephone. But again, it's all fun to look at, the fantastic settings and effects are remarkably good. Then there's a fairly worthless coda of action which presents itself pretty quickly after the beginning of the credits, so you should remain seated for that, if you care to, by that point.

I might watch Percy Jackson again, just to see it, and a two-and-a-half star rating is a recommendation. If you have kids learning about mythology, or who have an interest in it, you might want to see it with them. But if you have no special interest in the film itself for any reason, you should probably trust your gut and pick a different way to spend your two hours. You wouldn't miss very much.

Alex
The Magic of the Movies

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