Ever since the Harry Potter franchise first struck it big at the box office, movie studios have been looking to virtually every other popular piece of fantasy literature in the hopes of creating the next Harry Potter. Thus far, the results have been extremely mixed with films such as The Dark Is Rising and City of Ember tanking big time; The Spiderwick Chronicles, Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events and Eragon performing well but not doing great; and only Twilight really managing to even come close to Harry Potter‘s level of success. Now, comes the next in a very long line of attempts with the release of Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief, a film that looks like it may come closer than many previous attempts have. For one thing, the style of the Percy Jackson stories (written by Rick Riordan) is perhaps closer to the format of Harry Potter than any of those aforementioned films – just replace wizards with the children of gods and the parallels become obvious – and the stories certainly have the right mix of magic and adventure. Secondly, the director is Chris Columbus, the very man who brought the Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets to the big screen. Columbus’ track record may be a bit iffy in terms of quality – his ‘Harry Potter’ films were undoubtedly the weakest in the series – but he does know how to make a film that the kids will enjoy and for this reason he just may be the perfect person to launch this new (potential) movie franchise, although just as with Harry Potter if there are any sequels perhaps other directors should take over.
Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is a normal kid whose one talent is a freakish ability to stay underwater. His teacher Mr Brunner (Pierce Brosnan) lectures on the Olympian Gods of Ancient Greece – especially the ‘big three’, the brothers Zeus (Sean Bean), Poseidon (Kevin McKidd) and Hades (Steve Coogan), whose children were half-human and half-god. After another teacher transforms into a winged demon and attacks him, Percy is sent to Camp Half Blood to train with other demigods such as himself, where he finds that the Gods of Mount Olympus – whose ranks also include Persephone (Rosario Dawson), Athena (Melina Kanakaredes) and Medusa (Uma Thurman) – are real, and they’ve been expecting him. Discovering that his father is Poseidon, God of the Sea, Percy starts adapting to his new life, but when the lightning bolt of Zeus is stolen, a terrible war between the gods is threatened – and Percy and his friends Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), daughter of Athena, and Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) have to prevent it.
Over this half term holiday it is very likely that Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief will emerge as the top choice for families looking for escapism at the cinema. This, however, does mean that it is the best choice on offer as it is, in fact, the weakest family film in cinemas right now. Most of the blame for this can be laid at the feet of director Chris Columbus who brings to this film the same light handed and overly saccharine direction that he injected into the first two Harry Potter movies, taking something that could be great and making it into something that is merely okay. While this is undoubtedly a film that will entertain the kids, it fails to really pack a punch in the way that many other fantasy films have managed to do. A key reason is that it lacks the scale of other fantasy movies and quite often seems low rent, as if Columbus really didn’t have that much of a budget to work with (or isn’t that good at stretching a budget), and the result is that the film fails to really impress. The effects are consistently pretty good but there isn’t really anything that will amaze and certainly nothing that hasn’t been seen countless times before. The action sequences fail to be really engaging as well, meaning that the film fails to deliver the kind of thrills that may well be hoped for from a film such as this. There is certainly enough action and adventure for undemanding viewers but anyone wanting more will not be satisfied. One problem that cannot be blamed by Columbus though, and is a major factor, is the screenplay, which seems somewhat underdeveloped, with many of the film’s events seeming rather rushed and much of it seeming like a series of sequences linked together as opposed to one continuous narrative. Also, one key scene lacks the kind of emotional impact it should have. The script does at least inject some humour into proceedings, though, and while the one liners are very cheesy they are pretty funny. In fact, the one liners aren’t the only thing in the film that seems cheesy as cheese seems to be present in many aspects of the film, particularly the choices of song for the soundtrack. Whether this is good or bad will depend purely on how cheesy you personally like the films you see to be. In the acting department, the film does deliver. The focus is on the three young stars – Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario and Brandon T Jackson – and they are all very entertaining performers, Lerman being a very charismatic leading man, Daddario being suitably tough and strong willed and Brandon T Jackson providing the comic relief. There is also a pretty good chemistry between Lerman and Daddario. The adult actors, on the other hand, are something of a mixed bag. Despite the cast being quite star studded, none of the older stars really appear much, most only appearing in one or two scenes. While the adult actors aren’t necessarily convincing – for one thing, they are supposed to Greek gods yet they just speak with their own accents, not even attempting Greek – they do mostly entertain, although a few could be criticised for being a bit too camp, particularly Uma Thurman who comes perilously close to revisiting her much maligned performance of Poison Ivy from Batman & Robin. Other cast members include Catherine Keener (as Percy’s mom) and Joe Pantoliano (as Percy’s stepfather) – both are completely wasted here. All in all, Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief stands as a mildly entertaining but ultimately rather forgettable fantasy flick that may well stand as the launching point for a new franchise but is most definitely not in the same league as Harry Potter. So, it is possibly worth seeing but only after you’ve seen all the other family films in release.
Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief ***
Review by Robert Mann BA (Hons)
© BRWC 2010.
We hope you're enjoying BRWC. You should check us out on Facebook, look at our images on Instagram, and leave a comment on twitter. Don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter, and tell your friends. BRWC is short for battleroyalewithcheese.