Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Reviewed By Abhishek Bandekar
Posted 03/27/10 01:33:45

"Robbed off any genuine sparks"
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

Have you ever felt like you’re watching a secondhand film? A film that has absolutely no novelty and only similarities to those previously made in the genre? Chris Columbus, the director responsible for the first two installments of the highly successful Harry Potter franchise, is on familiar turf with this adaptation of yet another tweenage fantasy fiction about a callow lad who learns of his secret genealogy and the bigger, magical things he’s destined for. Only this time around, the titular young hero ain’t a wizard…but a demi-god. And yet, Columbus executes this film with a palpable jadedness that make the ho-hum proceedings all the more dull.

Percy Jackson (Logen Lerman), suffering from dyslexia, is as bland a 16 year old as any. Living with his mother (Catherine Keener) and obnoxious stepfather, the only time Percy feels he ‘belongs’ is when he’s submerged in a pool, holding his breath impressively under water. His affinity to water is justified in a school visit to the local Greek museum when his English teacher transforms into a winged demon demanding Percy to return the lightening bolt that he’s supposedly stolen from Zeus (Sean Bean), the Lord of the Sky. Flummoxed by this event, Percy is revealed by his wheelchair-bound professor Mr. Brunner (Pierce Brosnan) to be the son of Poseidon, the Lord of the Sea. The result of a God mating a mortal, Percy was protected his growing years by his mother and his best friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), a Satyr (half human, half goat) who disguised himself as a cripple. Even Mr. Brunner is actually a Centaur (part human, part horse) masquerading as a Latin teacher.

The setup is actually quite engaging and potentially promising. There is a sure crispness in the manner in which Greek mythology is both updated and adapted to weave a fantastic tale of a boy coming of age. Think of it as a cinematic bildungsroman with a tutorial intent of imparting education about Greek gods and goddesses. But the narrative predictability and the sheer lack of enterprise to make anything in the fantasy ‘plausible’ hinder engagement with the proceedings. Why does Zeus believe Percy to have stolen his lightening bolt? The script doesn’t bother to explain this major inciting plot point. And the final disclosure of the thief and his motive is so anticlimactic; it makes all the preceding fuss over the bolt tepid.

The screenplay first takes Percy to a camp of half-bloods (children born out of the union between Gods and mortals) where he meets his obligatory love-interest Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), daughter of the Goddess Athena of Wisdom, and then on a journey to the Underworld to rescue his mother and avert a potential war between Zeus and Poseidon. There’s an immense sense of déjà-vu to these events (exposition, initiation, training, hazardous expedition and resolution), worsened by the poor writing which tries to make its young characters mouth lines that are laboriously ‘uncool’ in their desperate attempts at being cool! The subpar effects expose financial constraints, and the art works resemble hand-me-downs from bigger budgeted films.

Despite these failings then, the film can still be recommended for its Greek-Mythology-For-Dummies approach in telling a clichéd tweenage fantasy story, and a deliciously vampy turn by Uma Thurman as the monster Medusa- a stunning beauty with actual snakes for dreadlocks and eyes that turn anyone who looks into them into stone. Talk about perfect casting!

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