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Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief: It’s All Greek to Me

The best thing about Percy Jackson is also its biggest flaw: the familiarity of it all. There’s a certain charm in a film’s ability to be utterly predictable in literally every step it takes. Since this movie is essentially Harry Potter meets Greek gods, you can call out the borrowed elements as they appear on the screen. “There’s their version of Hogwarts! There’s Capture the Flag, their version of Quidditch! There’s the jerk kid who hates our hero! There’s the smart girl who refuses to leave him in their journey!” And so on and so forth. It doesn’t help that the director here, Chris Columbus, also directed the first two Harry Potter films. Still, the film isn’t bad: the special effects are convincing, and a few adult actors appear and ham it up shamelessly. It’s just all so… inconsequential.

Percy (Logan Lerman) is an average kid at an average high school who loves swimming and hanging out with his crippled best friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson). One day, while visiting the museum, a demon attacks him. Whoops! Turns out he’s a demigod, the son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), and Zeus (Sean Bean) believes that he stole the lightning bolt from Olympus. If a kid who doesn’t know he’s a demigod can steal the bolt from Zeus, I worry about the gods’ abilities to maintain order, but that’s neither here nor there. Grover turns out to be a satyr, his “protector,” and he is taken to a special school for demigods. There, he learns that unless the bolt is received in roughly a week, Zeus will declare war on Poseidon, risking the very existence of the earth. To make matters more complicated, Hades (Steve Coogan) has kidnapped Percy’s mom (Catherine Keener) unless he turns the bolt over to him. All that, AND he has to try to win the heart of the girl (Alexandra Daddario)? Being a teen is tough.

The adults have fun. Catherine Keener is the go-to actress to be a mom in films these days, because she has an authenticity that shows even in absurd situations like this. Sean Bean and Kevin McKidd get to look appropriately serious and make appropriately grand statements. Steve Coogan cackles as Hades, Rosario Dawson steams up the screen as Persephone, and Joe Pantoliano acts seedier than usual as the villainous stepfather to Percy. The adult who really gets to shine is Uma Thurman, who hisses, slithers, and in general hams like an absolute maniac throughout her scene as Medusa. If all of the actors were having as much fun as she was, the film might have been a stand-out. The kids themselves are bland if likable. Logan Lerman and Alexandra Daddario have the charisma of CW teen stars, and while Brandon T. Jackson has good comedic timing, it is incredibly strange to watch him play a 16-year-old after his turn as rapper Alpa Chino in Tropic Thunder, and if your mind keeps getting drawn to another film that starred the same actor, it shows this one isn’t catching your interest enough (and I wasn’t even a big fan of Tropic Thunder).

How does Chris Columbus get these gigs? He seems to have been coasting off of Home Alone and Mrs. Doubtfire. The first two Harry Potter films were big financial successes, but overall their pace lags, their performances are uninspired, and their special effects are in places laughable. Here, this film suffers from the same problem– even though the plot kicks along at a swift tempo, the film still fails to intrigue. The special effects are better (as one would hope they would be nine years after the first Harry Potter film), but I hesitate to label them “special,” since nothing here is really brand new. I’ve seen these same set pieces in other films. Now, kids haven’t, so I’m sure there will be many children who are bewitched by the Percy Jackson series. Truth be told, there’s potential here: they deal with issues of parent abandonment, and certainly those who are crippled or dyslexic in real life can find a hero to relate to here. However, with such a Hallmark card treatment, this series has zero chance of ever seeing a worthwhile second installment. Chris Columbus has now phoned in decent material for the fourth time (the Harry Potters and Rent), and while other directors like David Yates and Rob Marshall try to enrich their sources, Columbus appears to be content doing the bare minimum. Percy Jackson is harmless, an okay diversion– but Columbus is treading mighty close to becoming The Matinee Money Thief.

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~ by russellhainline on March 30, 2010.

One Response to “Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief: It’s All Greek to Me”

  1. Looks like a fun movie for sure! We will put it on the to-do list!
    Steven Sutherland
    http://www.eloquentbooks.com/CourageToWin.html

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