Mark Reviews Movies

PERCY JACKSON & THE OLYMPIANS: THE LIGHTNING THIEF

2 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Chris Columbus

Cast: Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Catherine Keener, Jake Abel, Sean Bean, Pierce Brosnan, Steve Coogan, Rosario Dawson, Kevin McKidd, Melina Kanakaredes, oe Pantoliano, Uma Thurman

MPAA Rating: PG (for action violence and peril, some scary images and suggestive material, and mild language)

Running Time: 1:59

Release Date: 2/12/10


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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 11, 2010

Just like all Greek mythology, the gods of Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief have the juiciest material. Here, the tension between the three central gods, brothers Zeus (Sean Bean), leader of Mount Olympus and god of thunder, Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), god of the sea, and Hades (Steve Coogan), god of the underworld. All of them dress in modern clothes (Hades looks like an emo band reject), but their feud has been raging since they overthrew their father, the Titan Cronus.

They all want to lead over the rest of the gods but should probably take a break with Dionysus and his buddies for a little bit. An eternal struggle for power has to be pretty stressful.

As often happens in translating these myths, the gods take a backseat in The Lightning Thief, appearing in the prologue, in voice-over every so often, and during the climax. The problem, of course, is that they are the most fascinating characters in such mythology, representing humanity and its struggles better than the bores of mortals who unknowingly or unwillingly go along with whatever game the Olympians have concocted for their amusement.

The heroes of the movie, at least, aren't human but demigods, the offspring of gods and humans, who might be easily tempted by the prospect of a quick fling with someone who promises to show her his trident or who could translate her ultimate understanding of battle strategy to bedroom eyes.

Our central protagonist is Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman), son of Poseidon and Sally (Catherine Keener). Sally married Gabe (Joe Pantoliano), a threatening, possibly abusive drunk, because his awful stench would help mask the scent of Percy's holy blood (The guy's surname is Ugliano, so there's that, too).

He can't hide forever, especially when someone steals Zeus' primary weapon, the lightning bolt. As the son of one of Zeus' rivals for the throne, Percy is the prime suspect in the theft, so his teacher Mr. Brunner (Pierce Brosnan), a hidden centaur, entrusts Percy's satyr protector Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) to bring the boy to the sanctuary of Camp Half-Blood (where capture-the-flag is a full-contact sport—with swords).

There's a mission, clearly, which is to find Zeus' bolt and return it to its rightful owner, and there are a lot of obstacles, obviously, including a cow-hurling Minotaur, Medusa (Uma Thurman) in her gardens in New Jersey, a hydra comprised of janitors at the Parthenon in Nashville (strange that no one makes a union joke amidst all the one-liners thrown around), and the hypnotic lights and atmosphere of a Vegas casino (lotus flowers help).

Percy also has Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), demigod daughter of Athena, along for his quest. She tells him that she has strong feelings for him, but won't recognize if they indicate hatred or something else until they get to know each other better. After all, their parents loathe each other because the citizens of Athens chose Annabeth's mother to be the patron goddess of the city, but let's face it, she undoubtedly had the nominal advantage there.

None of the kids at camp know their deity parents, because of course, all the best demigods have abandonment issues. And what if Percy and Annabeth end up, as is strongly hinted at, together? Are the kids of two demigods called semi-demigods?

As a first entry, the movie leaves me intrigued by the world of Rick Riordan's book series, in which Riordan obviously recognizes the salacious elements of Greek mythology and respectfully plays around in its modernization. Director Chris Columbus makes good use of his practice on another fantasy film series to generate some intense sequences rooted by monsters and magic. The fight with Medusa ends on a funny bit of grotesquery (after showing the only useful implementation of having a reflective surface on a digital media player), and the kids' journey into the underworld (underneath Hollywood and looking surprisingly like Los Angeles on a particularly smoggy day) is appropriately dark and fraught with potential peril. Percy's climactic battle atop and through New York skyscrapers with the real lightning thief is especially effective, and one hero shot of Percy surrounded by water under his control is exceptional.

Some of this isn't as clever as its overall setup, like the casino sequence, and screenwriter Craig Titley relies far too much on comic banter between Percy, Annabeth, and Grover and Grover's sometimes groan-inducing one-liners. Whatever emotional connection to these characters might have been had out of their predicament is omitted almost entirely.

I enjoyed the inventive concept of Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief more than its ordinary execution. Admirably, the movie isn't bogged down in the exposition common to first entries, but at the end, it's a franchise searching for its voice.

Copyright © 2010 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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