As a movie Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief is the perfect advertisement for the books on which itís based. Unfortunately at times it feels like nothing more than an advertisement. The best thing you can say about director Chris Columbusís adaptation is that heís incapable of destroying whatever magic and wonder it is in those books that has kept kids coming back for more. But itís not for lack of trying. Columbusís movie is bland and uninspired. Itís under-budgeted, full of blank actors and clumsily constructed action sequences.
The movie and the books tell the story of a teenager who discovers heís a demi-god. A demi-god is someone whoís half mortal, half immortal. Hercules? Maybe youíve heard of him. He was a demi-god. In this case itís Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman), a high school kid who doesnít know that heís actually the son of the god Poseidon. Unbeknownst to Percy, head god Zeus (played by an utterly wasted Sean Bean) has accused Percy of stealing his lightning bolt. Soon Percy is thrust into a world of hydras and hell beasts. He discovers his favorite teacher is actually a Centaur (in one of the filmís two good performances, played capably by Pierce Brosnan) and his best friend is really a Satyr (played by Brandon T. Jackson giving the other good performance).
Percyís mom, played by a lost and confused Catherine Keener, has been kidnapped by a Minataur. So after a stop at the secret camp for the bastard children of Olympians, our boy Jackson rounds up a team of fellow demi-gods which includes his Satyr buddy and Athenaís daughter Annabeth (Played by Alexandra Daddario who isnít exactly great, but deserves credit for actually looking the part. Unlike every other actress in Hollywood, she manages to look stunningly beautiful while also looking like actually she eats.). Together they set out to save Percyís mother and figure out whatís up with Zeusís lightning bolt.
Percy Jackson is the kind of movie where the bad guy corners the good guy, puts a gun to his head, and then just stands there and watches the good guy take a thirty second pause to power up his abilities and destroy him. You had thirty seconds warning. It doesnít take that long to pull the trigger. But Percy Jackson also has some good ideas and a strange, comfortable charm which shines through in spite of all the bad directing, acting, and lazy effects work. You probably wonít notice that goat boyís CGI legs look like theyíre two dimensional, or that he only seems to have them when they think they canít get away with him not having them. You probably wonít care that Medusaís snakes look like theyíve been CGIíd with a glue-gun, or that the only reason Percy Jackson can hold his so long breath underwater is because heís obviously sitting in front of a greenscreen only pretending to be underwater. You wonít notice because the idea of recreating the story of Hercules and setting it in a modern era is a fun one, you wonít notice because even though the characters here are poorly executed, they were originally conceived of by someone who knew which side of the pen all the ink comes out of. Thatís more than I can say for Lightning Thief as a movie.
Lightning Thiefís story is at war with itself. It seems to want to avoid the usual clichťs of the kid-turned-hero fantasy genre, but has no idea how to do it. For instance, when Percy enters a demi-god training facility, the film seems headed for a boring, clichť training montage. The film avoids that by having our hero suddenly turn into the worldís greatest fighter for no reason at all. Even raw talent must be honed and if itís not being honed then why the hell does Percy Jackson have an instructor? Whatís he instructing him in? Nothing that I can see. So no one seems to notice when Percy wins a game of capture the flag by fighting two people and then calmly waltzing up to the enemy flag while the entire opposing army stands around watching him. Of course he wins, heís Percy Jackson. I mean, sure he managed to beat a couple of guys one on one, but thereís fifty of you literally within arms reach of him. Maybe you could grab him all at once?
If you stop to think about any of it The Lightning Thief is a maddening film. But the frustration of it all is outweighed by those moments when it all comes together. Thereís a brilliant effects sequence towards the beginning of the film, when Hades himself, winged and horned and wreathed in flame rises up from the middle of a bonfire. Itís an eye-popping shot, as eye-popping as most of the movieís other effects are not. A drug sequence in a casino proves to be a surprising amount of fun and cameos by people like Steve Coogan and Rosario Dawson give the movieís stranger moments a little extra umpf.
The Lightning Thief works mostly because itís a good idea. Itís Harry Potter meets the X-Men, set to the tune of all the crazy Greek mythology you learned in grammar school. Thatís too much fun to be ruined, the books on which itís based are full of too many good ideas to be torpedoed by lazy filmmaking. Now that Iíve seen it, Iím off to read the books. Donít bother with the sequel, Iíll catch it in print.
Reviewed By: Josh Tyler