16 April 2010

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Percy Jackson

The premise of Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief holds great potential potential the film never realizes.

Based on the first in a series of novels by Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief introduces Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman), a New York City teenager whose less-than-charmed life finds him plagued by dyslexia and living with his mother (Catherine Keener) and wretched stepfather (Joe Pantoliano).

But there is a reason why Percy can hold his breath underwater for an astonishing length of time: His father is none other than Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), Greek god of the sea. Percy doesn't know this, of course, until he and his best friend, Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), who turns out to be a satyr (half man, half goat) sent to him as a protector, are whisked away to a training camp for demigods (the offspring of god-human couplings) sort of a rustic, low-budget Hogwarts.

The gods themselves are after Percy. They believe he has stolen Zeus' (Sean Bean) lightning bolt, the most powerful weapon ever created. So Percy, Grover and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), the daughter of Athena (goddess of war and wisdom), set out to find the bolt to prevent a war among the gods and rescue Percy's mother, who is being held captive by Hades (Steve Coogan), god of the Underworld.

Their adventure includes encounters with the Minotaur, Medusa (Uma Thurman), a hydra, the Lotus Eaters and other creatures from Greek mythology. Many in the audience will recognize them easily, but our heroes aren't so quick. You would think people like Grover and Annabeth, who were raised in a world where mythology isn't mythology at all, would be a little more knowledgeable about these things.

Even a movie aimed at a young audience does not need to be so simplistic and obvious. The Lightning Thief is filled with moments where you think, "How are they going to do that?" or "How will they get out of this one?" Then the movie kind of shrugs its shoulders and moves on, saying, "That wasn't so hard after all, now, was it?"

There is no sense of danger, no weight to anything that occurs, no real stakes. We're told the gods will go to war if the lightning bolt is not returned, but what does that mean?

I don't know whether to blame Riordan or screenwriter Craig Titley. Director Chris Columbus also was at the helm of the first two Harry Potter movies, which were slavishly faithful to their source material, so maybe he's the culprit.

It's no help and more than a little frustrating that the supporting cast (I haven't even mentioned Pierce Brosnan or Rosario Dawson yet) overshadows the trio of young leads. McKidd is particularly strong in his brief screen time--he has been a favorite of mine since playing one of the leads of the late, great HBO series Rome.

In the end, The Lightning Thief feels like yet another potential fantasy franchise rushed to the screen in the wake of Harry Potter and The Lord of the Rings that falls woefully short.

Grade: D+

(Rated PG for action violence and peril, some scary images and suggestive material, and mild language. 118 minutes.)

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