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Sunday
Feb142010

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief

I suppose we can thank good 'ol Harry for this. Due to the success of the Harry Potter franchise, we now have a countless number of books being adapted to the big screen in an effort to start a lucrative series. Harry Potter, Twilight, The Chronicles of Narnia, Cirque du Freak, all hope to grab that cash from you. While not all were successful, namely the latter one, all shared that same trait. Now we have a newcomer hoping to wedge its way into the fold in the form of Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. Despite a few problems, it largely succeeds and proves itself as a fun, entertaining fantasy adventure that will tide fans over until the next Potter film.

Logan Lerman plays the title character, a teenager who is about to find out that his entire life is a lot more complicated than he thinks. His father is actually Poseidon, god of the sea, played by Kevin McKidd. Years ago, he came onto land, fell in love with his mother, played by Catherine Keener, and they had him as their child. Now, Poseidon's brother Zeus, god of thunder, played by Sean Bean, has accused Percy of stealing his thunderbolt. He has 14 days to return it or the gods go to war, destroying the heavens and the earth. As a result, Percy is taken to a camp exclusively for demi-gods, kids who are half human and half god, to train. Once he arrives, however, he watches his mother get abducted by Hades, god of the underworld (or more precisely, the Devil). He is played wonderfully by Steve Coogan. So Percy decides that he must get his mother back and treks across America with Annabeth, played by Alexandra Daddario, and his protector Grover, played by Brandon T. Jackson, in search of three pearls that will grant them entry and exit to the underworld.

Phew. You wouldn't think so given the PG rating and marketing towards kids, but this film has a lot going on. On their journey, the kids meet Medusa, battle a 10 headed dragon, and travel down into Hell to confront Hades. I felt like I was watching an epic for the ages, an exciting, scary, violent romp through the best parts of Greek mythology. The funny thing is that despite the kid-centric commercials, this thing is more for adults and teenagers. It features decapitations, a drug induced happiness that is played as cool and the aforementioned descent into Hell. Top onto that the intense battles with all sorts of mythical creatures and you have a film that is actually quite creepy. This thing's scarier than The Wolfman.

Although comparisons are unavoidable, especially given that this director helmed The Sorcerer's Stone and The Chamber of Secrets, Percy Jackson differs from Harry Potter in these respects. The Harry Potter films are more polished, but Percy Jackson is more fun. This doesn't waste its time in endless set-up with zero payoff (much like the fifth Potter). It's more of a droll, white knuckle action fantasy that moves at a brisk pace towards its conclusion. If you're looking for a better film, go with Potter, but if you're looking for something you can put on and enjoy at any time, Percy Jackson is your best bet.

Still, the film is nowhere near perfect and actually stumbles the most when it tries to mix that drollery with a serious story. The humor rarely works and feels out of place when one-liners are thrown out in the heat of battle. Its tone gets mixed so frequently that I'm not sure one is ever established. For instance, when they first arrive in Hell, they see thousands of tortured souls below them. The visual is haunting. Then they meet the Devil and his, shall we say, mistress, played by Rosario Dawson, and it turns lighthearted with an eerie sexual tension bubbling beneath the surface. The movie would have been helping itself had it gone the full scary route rather than attempting to juggle the two.

Then you have the ineffective side stories about Percy growing up without his father and the kindling romance between him and Annabeth. You see, Percy has been bitter his whole life about his father running out on him and his mother. He was only 7 months old when it happened, so he never even got to meet him and now he's stuck with his nasty stepfather who treats his mom like a piece of meat. The ending tries to resolve these daddy issues and the cheese is stacked up high. The romantic chemistry between him and Annabeth was missing, rendering that moot as well.

If you're looking at the film from an analytical point of view, this is a great story told haphazardly, but if you're looking at it through a normal citizen's eyes, this is great fun. It won't ever reach the success of Harry Potter, but here's hoping it makes enough money to warrant a sequel. Percy Jackson deserves at least that.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief receives 3.5/5