Chris Columbus: Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

I had heard some good things about Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, and I had coupon. (You have to watch out for those coupons.) The price was right, so I picked up a copy.

Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is a special guy. Maybe it’s the dyslexia. Maybe it’s the ADHD. Or maybe it’s that his father is the god Poseidon (Kevin McKidd). At any rate, Percy is suddenly in danger. Maybe it’s his substitute English teacher, Mrs. Dodds (Maria Olsen), who’s actually a Fury, as Percy discovers on a field trip to the local museum, led by Mr. Brunner (Pierce Brosnan), who is actually the centaur Chiron. It seems that Zeus’ (Sean Bean) lightning bolt has been stolen, and everyone thinks that Percy is the thief. (He’s not, in case you were wondering, although he does wind up, unwittingly, with the thing in his possession.) At any rate, after the Fury attack, Mr. Brunner sends Percy and his best friend, Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), who is actually a satyr (do you get the feeling that no one is what they seem?) to Camp Half Blood, which is a special camp for – you guessed it – young demigods. There, Percy discovers 1) that his mother (Catherine Keener), whom he thought was killed, is actually alive and in the Underworld; and 2) Annabeth (Alexandria Daddario), who is actually the daughter of Athena, who hates Percy’s father. So Percy, naturally, decides to set off alone to rescue his mother from the clutches of Hades (Steve Coogan). Grover, as Percy’s Protector (junior grade) and Annabeth, of course, decide to accompany him.

If this all sounds complicated, that’s because it is. Happily, the exposition is presented relatively subtly, without being obtrusive, and doesn’t interrupt the pacing of the film, which on the whole is consistent and contributes to a good momentum.

The cast does a very good job presenting what could be an unwieldy story and set of characters – the characterizations make sense, for the most part, although I have to say that Uma Thurman as Medusa is a little over the top. The same could be said for Rosario Dawson as Persephone, although again, her portrayal makes sense. Coogan’s Hades is meant to be a parody (of – well, pick your favorite rock star), and it works on that basis. Zeus is suitably stuffy, and Poseidon has just the right awkwardness of an absent father reunited with his son (even though the separation wasn’t his fault). The three adventurers are spot on.

There are some sequences that could have been tightened up – the three kids spend way too much time in the Land of the Lotus Eaters (Las Vegas, naturally), and as for the Underworld, forget everything you knew about Greek mythology – it’s straight out of Christian mythology, and for this guy, who grew up on the Greek and Roman gods, it’s way off base, including Hades’ alternate persona, who bears more than a passing resemblance to the Christian Devil.

My big gripe is the climax, as Percy narrowly averts a war among the gods. Percy, let me tell you – you don’t just hand over a potent weapon to a god without some sort of quid pro quo, you know? That’s sort of symptomatic of some reservations one could have: there’s a lot that could have been developed better that would have added some meat to the story.

The DVD includes five deleted scenes, a “Discover Your Powers” quiz, and a featurette on the making of the film.

As it is, it’s a fun couple of hours, and not to be taken seriously.

Rated PG, 118 minutes.

(Fox 2000 Pictures, 1492 Pictures, Sunswept Entertainment, 2010)

About Robert Tilendis

Robert M. Tilendis lives a deceptively quiet life. He has made money as a dishwasher, errand boy, legal librarian, arts administrator, shipping expert, free-lance writer and editor, and probably a few other things he’s tried very hard to forget about. He has also been a student of history, art, theater, psychology, ceramics, and dance. Through it all, he has been an artist and poet, just to provide a little stability in his life. Along about January of every year, he wonders why he still lives someplace as mundane as Chicago; it must be that he likes it there.

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