Chris Columbus is the man who brought Harry Potter to the big screen before turning the film franchise over to a diverse cabal of talented directors. With Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, he potentially sets up Rick Riordan’s popular Percy Jackson series of novels for the same treatment. But the next chapter — if there is one — had better step it up. A lot.
In The Lightning Thief, war is brewing because someone has stolen Zeus’ (Sean Bean) lightning bolt, a powerful weapon that gives the grumpy ruler of Mount Olympus absolute power. They’ve also framed young Percy Jackson, the half-mortal son of Zeus’ brother and rival, Poseidon. Thrust into a situation he can hardly believe, Percy (Logan Lerman) has 14 days to learn the ways of a demigod, find the bolt and clear his name.
He’s a normal kid with normal problems, like dyslexia, ADHD and his mother’s obnoxious live-in boyfriend — but each of these obstacles is revealed to be an unexpected gift when he discovers his true nature. Stressing a hero’s flaws while putting him on a pedestal is a risky technique, but it’s one writers have been using to make myths believable and relevant since the days of Homer, and it pays off in this adaptation.
The movie suffers from a connect-the-dots, scavenger hunt plot that takes Percy and his companions from one end of the country to the other, then to Hell and back. While the characters are hardly intriguing, their rapport is what drives things along, as well as a healthy dose of humor that keeps everyone from taking themselves too seriously, which would be silly with all the flying shoes, godlings and horny satyrs running around.
But the movie’s many mythological monsters are too often used as throwaway chess pieces that underwhelm, with the notable exception of a show-stealing Medusa (Uma Thurman) and a fire-breathing CGI Hydra in an epic fight that actually thrills.
This may be a function of cramming too much material from the book into a two-hour movie. I haven’t read any of Riordan’s books, but after seeing Columbus’ adaptation of the first volume, I intend to. The son of Poseidon has promise, but this time around he gets a deep, blue C.
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
Rated: PG for action violence and peril, some scary images and suggestive material, and mild language
Starring: Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Jake Abel, Sean Bean and Pierce Brosnan
Running time: 119 min