Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief


Review by Patrick Hodges

Let’s just get the inevitable comparisons between Percy Jackson and Harry Potter out of the way first, shall we?

Both characters are young men with extraordinary, supernatural abilities; both were born from at least one very special parent; both face a bevy of otherworldly perils in the course of their early adventures, and both face them with their two best friends (a guy and a girl) at his side; and, of course, both were taken from an extremely successful series of books.

Now, while The Lightning Thief, the first book in the series written by author Rick Riordan, may indeed be the first of numerous sequels (there were five books in the series), it will never compare to the success of J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard.  The Harry Potter series is a legitimate phenomenon; the six movies in that series, with the seventh (and final) one coming up later this year and next summer, have earned more money than any other literary adaptations ever.  And not only that, they are damn good stories. 

But assuming that we lived in a world that Harry Potter didn’t exist, Percy Jackson would only be a so-so movie.  Though it did have a lot of the childish whimsy that the first two Harry Potter films did (which is not surprising, given that Chris Columbus directed all three films), the main characters had (in my opinion) the disadvantage of starting out considerably older than Harry and his friends. 

To start out with, Percy (Logan Lerman) is just an average teenager plodding through high school.  He lives with his mother (Catherine Keener) and his incredibly obnoxious stepfather (Joe Pantoliano), and only seems to find solace when he is in water.  But during a fateful – and violent – field trip to a museum, he learns the truth:  that he is the son of the Greek god Poseidon (Kevin McKidd).  But the bad news doesn’t end there.

It seems that the most powerful weapon on heaven and earth, the lightning bolt of Zeus (Sean Bean) has been stolen, and everyone seems convinced that Percy is the culprit.  Poseidon, of course, proclaims his innocence, and gods being gods, Zeus gives Percy two weeks to return the bolt or there will be war.  Things get even worse when Zeus and Poseidon’s brother Hades (Steve Coogan) abducts Percy’s mother and takes her to the underworld.

And then, if you can believe it, the film turns into a “road trip” movie.  Percy crosses the country searching for jewels that will allow him access (and escape) from the underworld, as he means to visit Hades and free his mother.  Along for the ride are his best friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) a satyr in disguise, and Annabeth, a butt-kicking, sword-wielding daughter of Athena.

I will say that most of the action sequence are good, including the youngsters’ battles with the five-headed hydra as well as an up-close encounter with the vicious, snake-haired Medusa (deliciously played by Uma Thurman).  However, the story bogs down in its own adolescence more than a few times, catering to the immaturity of the film’s target demographic rather than play to a wide variety of ages.

Whether any more books in the series get made into movies remains to be seen.  I can only hope, that if it does, it matures a great deal.  Of course, having been an ardent fan of Harry Potter despite my, eh, middle age, perhaps I’m just spoiled.

2 ½ / 5 stars


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