PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF review by Mark Walters

PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF review by Mark Walters

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It seems these days everyone is trying to come up with the next big screen HARRY POTTER franchise.  We’ve seen a lot of failed attempts in the past few years (THE SPIDERWICK CHRONICLES and THE GOLDEN COMPASS come to mind)… they just never seem to capture the magic, or even give us a sense of staying power the way the POTTER moves did from the start.  The man who helped usher the HP franchise into our moviegoing hearts was director Chris Columbus.  He actually helmed the first two of J.K. Rowling’s big screen outings, and the franchise just ballooned from there.  Now Columbus is taking on another popular book series with his newest effort, PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF.

The story (based on the book by Rick Riordan) follows high schoolers Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) and his crippled and crutched buddy Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), who spend their days feeling out of place in class, and having Percy do strange things like hold his breath comfortably for several minutes underwater while Grover times him.  At home, Percy and his mother (Catherine Keener) share their home with a drunken jerk named Gabe (Joe Pantoliano), who doesn’t respect or care about either of them.  During a trip to a museum of Greek Mysthology, Percy has a very strange encounter with his substitute teacher, who turns into a winged demon chasing after him, demanding he give her “the lightning bolt” he stole.  As school instructor Mr. Brunner (Pierce Brosnan) and Grover come to his rescue, Percy begins to think there’s a lot more at work around him than he’s aware of.  He is soon swept away to a “camp” for people like him, people who are connected to Greek Gods.  There he studies how to battle others like himself, and harness the powers he posesses.  He also meets the lovely but lethal Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), a friendly and enthusiastic swordsman naked Luke (Jake Abel), he learns the Grover is in fact a half-man half-goat satyr, Mr. Brunner is a half-man half-horse centaur, and soon finds himself on a mission to recover a lost lightning bolt which harnesses the very essence and power of lightning.  If he fails, the Greek Gods will find themselves at war, and the world may perish as a result.  Plus Hades (Steve Coogan) has his own plans, and kidnaps Percy’s mother as collateral, causing the young man to decide what is truly important in life.

Got all that?  I know it sounds incredibly complicated, but the truth is the plot is fairly easy to follow.  We’ve all studied Greek Mythology at some point in our lives, and if you know most of the basics involving Greek Gods of lore, you’ll be able to keep up with PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS pretty easily.  And if you have an appreciation of said Mythology, you’ll definitely appreciate the concepts of bringing certain Greek characters into modern day settings.  It’s also a good excuse for the filmmakers to bring in some cool supporting actors with recognizable faces.  People like Uma Thurman (who shows up vamping as Medusa) and Rosario Dawson (who looks sexier than ever as Persephone) have memorable scenes (which they look like they’re enjoying as well), and actors like Sean Bean and Kevin McKidd were born to play noted Greek Gods like Zeus and Poseidon.  Other casting choices seemed a bit odd, such as the normally quirky comical Steve Coogan as an aging rocker-ish Hades, and Melina Kanakaredes as Athena… with a British-ish accent.  Not sure what they were thinking on some of those choices, but most of the players fit the story nicely.

I get the sense there’s a lot missing from the final cut of this film, as certain scenes feel truncated in exposition, and there’s a sense of lacking in character development for our main heroes.  But Chris Columbus hasn’t forgotten how to make an entertaining film.  PERCY JACKSON is filled with imaginative and fun action sequences, and the high school age American characters are a little easier to identify with than HARRY POTTER‘s British grade schoolers.  Logan Lerman (who is relatively new to the acting world) has a great, natural quality to his performance, coming across as believable and likable in the hero role, and convincing in the concept of finding the hero within himself.  Most of the principals are fine.  Alexandra Daddario is confident and sexy in her tough girl role of Annabeth.  I would have liked to see a bit more character development with her, and perhaps more interaction with her and Lerman, but she’s fun nonetheless.  Brandon T. Jackson transforms himself convincingly into the young best friend of Percy, who while comical and witty never once emulates or reminds us of his Alpa Chino character in TROPIC THUNDER… yep, that was him.  He also displays a natural quality that works well in a leading role.

All of the effects in the film are pretty top notch and immersive.  Most of the scenes involving action and magical creatures were terrific.  I feel most of that must be credited to Chris Columbus, and his ability to manage those types of moments in film.  PERCY JACKSON is by no means a perfect movie, and as much as it pains me to say it, chances are it’s not the next HARRY POTTER either.  But I did find it to be a fun time at the movies, and a good family film that young adults should find enjoyable.  The nice thing about this film is it’s a neutral type of movie that all ages should find enjoyable.  If I had kids, I’d gladly take them to it.  If I talked to someone with kids, I’d gladly recommend it.  And perhaps that’s what PERCY JACKSON really has going for it… it’s neutrality, which there’s something to be said for.  Even the HARRY POTTER films these days have scenes that seem either a little too dark, or a little too suggestive, leading me to wonder if they’re even appropriate for younger audiences anymore.  PERCY JACKSON maintains a respectable storytelling style, and I sincerely hope it finds an audience.  My only complaints come from the somewhat underdeveloped characters, and as I mentioned before certain underdeveloped scenes.  I’d gladly revisit these heroes, and enjoy seeing where they take it from here.

Final note, if you see the film, make sure to sit through the credits for a nice bit of closure on one of the more memorable characters.

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community’s leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.