Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
When it comes to pre-teen/teen fantasy, the Harry Potter universe is a rare treat of relatable characters, emotional storytelling, exciting adventures, and fairly complex ruminations about life, death and growing up. It's a full feast.
In comparison, the new film Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is sort of like macaroni & cheese. And honestly, who doesn't like macaroni & cheese? It's tasty. But nutritional, decadent, rich, satisfying, and lasting? Maybe not so much. While this new flick may not have Potter's complex world, deeper themes, and multiple layers, it also doesn't have the angst, heaviness and darkness. Instead, it replaces them with one thing in bulk: Fun.
Harry Potter's saga clearly influences Percy's story, but this film is not some cheap rip-off pushed by a studio to rake in money. It's actually an adaptation of author Rick Riordan's No. 1 New York Times bestselling book from 2005 (the final installment of the five-book series, The Last Olympian, came out last spring). The award-winning books were written by a former Greek mythology teacher after reading the sagas of the ancient Greek heroes as bedtime stories to his son. The result is a quickly-paced, action-heavy, exciting movie that melds the Harry Potter series with a dash of National Treasure and a whole bunch of Clash of the Titans. (This film, like the first two Potter flicks, was directed by Chris Columbis.)
Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is a normal high-school student who's convinced he's a loser. His learning disabilities and ADHD have him feeling low and discouraged. How can he ever achieve anything? But everything changes during a school field trip. While discussing Greek mythology, an attack by a mythical beast reveals to Percy a much bigger world of adventure and heroism.
As Percy recovers from the bizarre attack, his teacher (Pierce Brosnan) and a friend reveal to Percy that he's no loser but actually a demi-god (half-human, half-god—like Hercules), and his dad is Poseidon (Kevin McKidd). After a childhood of his true lineage being hidden, he is now hunted—falsely accused of stealing the lightning bolt of Zeus (Sean Bean). With an epic clash of the titans on the horizon, the world's only hope is Percy's quest—with his protective satyr Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and fellow demi-god Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario)—across America, into Hades and to Mount Olympus.
Fans of the book should know that this is not a literal, page-by-page adaptation like the first Harry Potter movie. A lot of details are changed. While the book is from Percy's point of view, the movie pulls back to show the bigger picture—even starting with a discussion between Zeus and Poseidon. Instead of the paced unfolding of Percy's identity, the set-up is blown through so that we can get right into all the fun of the Percy's journey. The movie sprints from big set-piece to bigger set-piece in a world full of satyrs, furies, hydras, centaurs, and more. My favorite moments: When the heroes confront Medusa (played with delicious abandon by Uma Thurman) in a genuinely intense sequence, and when they pull into Vegas for a truly inspired modern riff on the myth of the lotus eaters.