Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Movie Review: Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief

Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief ***
Directed By:
Chris Columbus.
Written By: Craig Titley based on the novel by Rick Riordan.
Starring: Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson), Brandon T. Jackson (Grover), Alexandra Daddario (Annabeth), Jake Abel (Luke), Sean Bean (Zeus), Pierce Brosnan (Mr. Brunner / Chiron), Steve Coogan (Hades), Rosario Dawson (Persephone), Melina Kanakaredes (Athena), Catherine Keener (Sally Jackson), Kevin McKidd (Poseidon), Joe Pantoliano (Gabe Ugliano), Uma Thurman (Medusa), Julian Richings (Ferryman).

Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) thinks that he is just a regular kid. He struggles in school because of his dyslexia, and his home life isn’t great because although he loves his mother Sally (Catherine Keener), he despises his stepfather Gabe (Joe Pantoliano), who is mean to both him and his mother. But then something strange happens on a fieldtrip - his substitute teacher turns into some sort of demon and attacks him. He is rescued by his best friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and his principal Mr. Brunner (Pierce Brosnan), both of whom are handicapped. It is only after this encounter that they decide to let Percy in on a secret - he is really the son of Poseidon, God the Sea, and the entire community of gods believes that Percy has stolen Zeus’ thunderbolt, which could cause a war the likes of which they have not seen in generations.

Percy is taken to Camp Half Blood for his own protection. Everyone wants to get their hands on him because of the lightning bolt they think he has. He is the most powerful kid at the camp, even though he has never gone through any training, because he is the son of one the “Big Three” - Zeus, Poseidon and Hades, which is exceedingly rare. He is told to stay in the camp where he can be protected, while everyone else works out the conflict. But when Percy finds out that his mother has been kidnapped by Hades, he goes on a journey to try and get her back. Joining him are Grover, who is really his half man half goat protector, and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddarrio), the daughter of Athena, who is sick of practicing, and also may have her eyes on Poseidon. First, they have to find three blue pearls which will allow them to leave Hades once they get in, and then find the entrance to Hades itself. They are aided by a magical map.

Percy Jackson is directed by Chris Columbus, who also directed the first two Harry Potter movies, and is hoping to start another franchise based on Rick Riordan’s best selling kid’s book series. He just may have something here. No, the movie doesn’t have the magic of the Harry Potter movies, and I assume the books (which I have not read), do not have the magic of JK Rowling’s books (few do). But, this opening chapter is fun and exciting. The special effects are good, and the origin story of the Greek Gods is handled with intelligence and respect for the original legends. Percy is a lovable lead character, and Lerman is fine in the role - playing a character it is easy to relate to. I also loved Daddarrio as Annabeth, who has gorgeous blue eyes, and real screen presence in the film. Jackson makes an amusing sidekick as well. Although the film is full of movie stars playing the Gods, it is these three kids who really carry the movie on their shoulder, and they do a great job.

That’s not to say the adult actors are bad. I loved Uma Thurman’s brief, but memorable, turn as Medusa. Rosario Dawson makes a sexy, alluring Persephone, and Steve Coogan is hilarious as Hades. The rest are not quite as good - Sean Bean has to be a little too serious as Zeus, and Kevin McKidd never really sold me on the fact that he was Poseidon. We think that Pierce Brosnan is going to have a bigger role, but after some important scenes early, he fades from view, but he’s fine when he’s there.

Columbus is not the most imaginative director in the world. The best movies of the Harry Potter series have all been after he gave up the reins after the first two films. Like those movies, Columbus is better at storytelling than he is at the visuals. That’s not to the say that the movie is not well made, just that it isn’t quite as original in how it presents its story. He gets the movie from one scene to the next quickly, but if this series is going to continue, it should think of getting a director who is a little more cinematic.
Series like this often die after their first movie, because the origin story, which is usually the least interesting, gets in the way of everything else. Percy Jackson dodged that bullet, because this time the origin story is quite enjoyable. I hope they get to make a sequel to this movie - I have the feeling it could be something truly special.

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