REVIEW: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief [2010]

“It’s like High School, but without the Musical”

Who else could have the catchy pop beats to lull a trio of mythologically inclined heroes into a trance, keeping them from their task at hand, than Lady Gaga? Director Chris Columbus made the right call on that one as he takes the plunge into yet another popular fantasy series, hoping to achieve the success he had in starting the Harry Potter saga. My main gripe with the first two films there was that he stayed too true to the source material, always playing it safe and never willing to risk possibly angering a massive population of wannabe witches and wizards. If my aunt and cousin have anything to say about Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, it is that those behind the movie definitely took some liberties, mostly maneuvers to help move the plot along and reach the necessary conclusion within two hours. I haven’t read the novels, so I can’t comment myself to that fact, but either way, I had a lot of fun in this hyper-real world, so perhaps Columbus did learn a thing or two about catering to the medium rather than appeasing a community of fans that probably could never be satisfied.

I have always had an affinity for Greek and Roman mythology, so this premise is definitely tailored to my tastes. Even as far back as elementary school, I had been visiting the tales of Theseus, Prometheus, and Pandora; discovering their connections to Zeus, Athena, Poseidon, and Hades. The stories were so universal in their adventure and humanity that they have, and will, stand the test of time. So, when Rick Riordan decided to create a series depicting the illegitimate offspring of Mt. Olympus’ rogue’s gallery, he definitely tapped into a subject that had all the potential of being huge. Not only would those my age and older want to check it out for the simple fact that it expanded on the myths we grew up reading, but it also serves as a vessel to expose today’s youth to these ancient scripts, adding a little flair that they may not see through all the marble statues and togas. I’m actually a little surprised that I never even heard of the series until the film started production, but thankfully the debut here has piqued my interest to continue on with the journey. Hopefully the box office take will be enough to soldier on through the next four books.

The fun starts right from the beginning, introducing us to Zeus and Poseidon conversing about an impending war that would destroy all of humanity. While the lightning God seems to have left all connection to Earth behind, (besides the trysts he still most likely has there while Hera remains in the heavens), the God of sea has not. By keeping two half-humans at his son Percy’s back, protecting him while he cannot, Poseidon does his best to shield the boy, from the dangers that wait due to his heritage, until his true identity is revealed. The moment for the truth isn’t far away, however, as someone has stolen Zeus’s lightning, framing the boy to the point where minotaurs and furies are chasing him down for the chance to possess the weapon’s power for themselves. Percy finds himself swept away into this world of demigods, training for a war that may be closer than they ever could have imagined, and in the middle of a shoving match between the three siblings with all the authority—Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. It all just becomes a surreal dream until Percy’s mother is kidnapped and held in the underworld, snapping the boy out of his stupor straight into heroic mode.

While the Gods are portrayed by some very capable Brits in Sean Bean’s Zeus, Kevin McKidd’s Poseidon, (still underappreciated in Hollywood), and Steve Coogan’s Hades, (letting some of that trademark humor show through in an otherwise serious role), the trio of heroes are, for the most part, newcomers. Percy’s best friend Grover is played by Brandon T. Jackson and is possibly the best thing in the film. He may be almost a decade older than his buddies, and this may be a big tonal departure from the last role I saw him as in Tropic Thunder, but he plays it effectively, both realistic as a high schooler and also as a saytr of unknown age. Definitely the comic relief in words, actions, and expressions, Jackson is the perfect foil to his more earnest companions. Alexandra Daddario comes across as stiff at the start, but slowly softens up as the film goes on. Much more effective when on the quest for Zeus’s lightning, she is most natural when entranced by Lady Gaga and lotus cookies, showing a side of her that is needed to understand the more severe one. And it’s Logan Lerman rounding out the good guys as the titular Percy. He is quite good being at the center of it all, likeable in his modesty and naivety, but also believable as the headstrong warrior he was born to become.

There are a lot of supporting players within the game too, and many are brought to life by some familiar faces. Pierce Brosnan is the sage teacher responsible for getting these halfbloods ready for battle, but is largely wasted here, perhaps in lieu of a more substantial role in subsequent entries; Uma Thurman is having a lot of fun as Medusa, hamming it up at every opportunity; and Catherine Keener once again shows that she has tied up the job of concerned and caring mother for every new film being made. It is also nice to see Joe Pantoliano sleaze his way across the screen as the guy we all love to despise. However, the truly spectacular supporting cast comes from those characters that aren’t really there. Kudos to the special effects team for really going overboard on the creature development. Some instances are obviously fake, like when actors interact with fiction, (grabbing a pair of Hermes’s flying Converses for example), but, otherwise, the rendering of monsters such as Medusa, a Minotaur, Hades in full regalia, and especially the Hydra are quite well done.

Percy and friends have their work cut out for them as they attempt to enter Hell, save Mrs. Jackson, stop a Gods’ feud, and thus save the world. All the elements to appeal to children and adults are included, culminating towards a solid final battle, creating suspense and excitement. Despite that, though, something tells me the stakes will only get higher once these kids return to theatres next time.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief 7/10 | ★ ★ ★

photography:
[1] Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) stands triumphant with the trident belonging to his father, the Greek god Poseidon. Photo credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox
[2] Percy Jackson prepares to give a final “heads up” to Medusa (Uma Thurman). Photo credit: Courtesy Twentieth Century Fox

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One Response to “REVIEW: Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief [2010]”
  1. jenky says:

    At last, a reviewer who hasn’t missed the point…..i.e. get the yougsters attention focussed on the symbols which have historically helped mankind to understand the human condition..(through myths,legend & astrology before christianity) and advised them for example,not to ” be distracted by your enemy” and other useful pieces of wisdom, so that with training (headmaster :Pierce Brosnan’s role) they can survive this difficult existence.

    A super educational film for all the family, including a few truths for the parents.

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