Of Myths and Monsters
With just two films to go before Harry Potter retires his wand, the race is on to crown the next choice fantasy franchise. Many have thrown their hats in the ring, though who more appropriate to give it a shot than the guy who brought the boy wizard to the big screen in the first place? Director Chris Columbus returns to high-concept teentainment with Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief -- one epic title for a would-be series just barely out of the starting gate. I'd never heard of Rick Riordan's novels before I hunkered down in my seat, though from how little its pomp and circumstance sparked my interest, I believe those in the know will probably find it a more fulfilling flick.
On the surface, Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is your typical, albeit somewhat troubled, youth. His hands are full enough coping with dyslexia and ADHD, until the mother of all bombshells gets dropped on him during a trip to the museum. Percy rather abruptly learns that his father is none other than Poseidon, famed Greek god of the seas. This, of course, means Percy is a demigod, though he hasn't the chance to explore the powers that come with his lineage. Something's afoot in Mount Olympus, as Zeus (Sean Bean) has accused Percy of making off with his lightning bolt and plans to incite Armageddon if it's not returned. Faster than you can say Odysseus, Percy rushes off to bring back the wayward weather, though a slew of mythical creatures ensure the job won't be an easy one.
This Percy Jackson film had a good chance of standing out on its own. Too bad it slinks so often back to the herd. I'm surprised Hollywood's recent fantasy boom took this long to hit up Greek mythology, which has millenia of material to its benefit. But while the offspring of the gods are front and center, the genre's party line hasn't changed. Worlds of wonder, great destinies, and all that jazz are here, their wear and tear more visible than ever. But don't blame Riordan, whose premise I can imagine springing to life on the printed page. I think Columbus was on cruise control here, apathetically hauling his actors from adventure to adventure and recycling many of the same tricks employed during his Harry Potter tenure. Even the effects look the same, which isn't to say they're horrible, but to say they barely improve on what was done almost nine years ago shows how little effort was exercised.
Still, being a film for which visuals are vital, Percy Jackson cleans itself up pretty well. I enjoyed the movie's classy presentation, which offers a world that could've easily wowed me if the writing were up to snuff. Percy's journey into Hades and a showdown with Medusa (Uma Thurman) -- plus her slithery mane -- come across as most memorable. But Percy Jackson runs out of steam the more it resorts to eye candy to plug the storytelling gaps. For as often as principal characters sync up alarmingly well, we might as well be watching Harry Potter Goes Greek. This is through no fault of the young talent, who at least display some charisma. Lerman nails the conquering hero act, his entourage filled nicely by Alexandra Daddario and Brandon T. Jackson. Some weight is lent by the presence of heavy hitters like Thurman and Pierce Brosnan, though they mostly stick to the side, thereby boiling a good chunk of Greek mythology down to random celebrity cameos.
I'm not a fan of Percy Jackson, but it does possess one quality I particularly admire. For once, here's a self-contained story, allowing a chance for future escapades without betting the farm on a sequel that may not even come to pass. Although Percy Jackson didn't capture my intense interest, it may have some use as a stepping stone for wide-eyed youngsters on the way to more evocative adventures.
MY RATING: ** (out of ****)
(Released by Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation and rated "PG" for action violence and peril, some scary images and suggestive material, and mild language.)