Feb 2010 12

Percy Jackson has the unfortunate pleasure of being compared to Harry Potter. The coincidences are many. They are both different takes of the monomyth or the hero’s journey that takes place in so many other stories such as Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and The Matrix.  Complicating matters for the new Percy Jackson films is the fact that the director of the first two Harry Potter films, Chris Columbus, serves as the director of this latest film. The film may not reach the emotional heights of the Potter series, but it provides ample enough escapism for the average theater going young man.

When we first meet Percy Jackson, he is a bored young man in a New York City high school with a best friend, Grover, and a mother who has a boyfriend who treats her like trash.  He has the ability to stay underwater for inhuman lengths of time. On a trip to a history museum he learns about the Greek gods, and in the middle of learning is dragged away by another teacher. Through a quick series of events we learn that Percy is a demigod who is the son of one of the “big three” Greek gods, Poseidon.  Unfortunately for Percy, there is a war brewing at Mount Olympus, and many think him responsible for the event that caused it. Zeus’ master bolt, a devastating weapon only wielded by the king of the gods, is missing, and the gods believe Percy responsible. Percy must go to Camp Half Blood and learn how to survive on a quest to get Zeus’ bolt back, and avoid a war of the gods.

Many fans might be disappointed by the changes in the series. Percy has been moved from a 12 year old to a 17 year old boy to garner favor with a wider audience. Much of the story has been streamlined to present the minimum amount of exposition, and the maximum amount of action. The film barrels along at a break neck pace, and really doesn’t let up til very close to the end.  Normally this might unnerve me a bit; I enjoy exposition and seeing character’s motives. In a film like Percy Jackson, almost every character is an archetype of what you’ve seen before, so you’ve seen these motives before, and so much isn’t wasted on intensifying the relations to characters.

This is a film that is very much solicited to a target audience. It is aimed at pre-teen and teen boys. Sure, they’ve ramped up some of the action and changed the characters ages a bit to provide a wider range, but much of the main story is still intact. You have the reluctant hero (albeit slight less reluctant than his book counterpart), the goofy sidekick, and the love interest who also happens to be the hero’s equal. The film might be a bit derivative, but the action scenes more than make up for the basic, and sometimes banal plotline.

Logan Lerman proves to be a solid newcomer, playing the character of Percy with plenty of wide eyed wonder that a teenager would have of finding out he is a god.  Lerman adds just enough ego to his character make him a somewhat believable teenage hero. Alexandra Daddario plays the love interest, Annabeth daughter of Athena, and comes off strongly as a bull headed leader. Brandon T. Jackson plays for the comic relief as the saytr Grover who plays Percy’s best friend and would be protector. There is a solid cast of supporting actors including Kevin McKidd, Sean Bean, Pierce Brosnan, Catherine Keener, Uma Thurman, Steve Coogan, and Rosario Dawson.  Most of them play entertaining characters, but people who were hoping for a faithful adaptation of the books might be a little put off.

Director Chris Columbus once again shows he knows broad appeal, but misses many of the tiny details. None of it is enough to be off putting, but this is a series that might serve him handing off the reins again much like he did with Harry Potter.  Once you see a couple of the more cringe worthy moments, and stilted dialogue you’ll probably agree with me. It isn’t enough to make anyone hate the film, but it isn’t going to win anyone over as well.

In the end, if you are looking for a bit of escapism, and want to imagine what it would be like to put yourself in the shoes of a demigod, go see Percy Jackson.  If you are a Greek mythology buff you might enjoy a lot of what is in the film, and it might be your remedy to a normal superhero film. After watching it I went and started reading the novels just to see how much had changed. It doesn’t stay really true to the books, but it keeps the overall arc. Of the films I’ve seen this week, Percy Jackson is the one I would most likely see again.

Grade: B-

Another Take By Zac:

The latest adaptation from Chris Columbus is a huge step forward from his dismal last effort but for every good scene in this film there is a bad line or plot hole that levels the film out to just being an alright, mildly entertaining experience.

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief is quite a long title but the film is the first adaptation from this fantasy series that has quite the following and is hoping to be the next big thing with kids.  After watching the first film, I think it will connect quite well with younger audiences and even works for the older audience at times but anyone with a bit of common sense will have quite a lot to shake their head at as this film rushes through to the end.

Percy Jackson seems like just like any other high school kid, but what he doesn’t know is that he is actually the son of Poseidon and is in the middle of brewing war between the Greek gods that the blame firmly falls on young Percy’s shoulders.  It is unfortunate that Percy doesn’t know this yet and before he knows it he is attacked by a number of evil beasts as he, his mother, and his recently revealed protector/ best friend comes out of hiding and leads them in flee to “the camp.”  The party reaches the camp which houses and trains all of the half-man/half-gods to use their powers and Percy must train to head off on his quest to stop the impending war.

Now like I said early, the film flies along at a whips pace, is full of action beats, and rarely let’s up which keeps things moving along and stays interesting.  The effects work in the film is also really fantastic, props to Trixter Film who are pretty new to the scene, and the adult supporting cast is great from top to bottom.  But from these high points in the film come just as many low ones.  The script is dumb down beyond belief with characters repeating obvious things to death just to make sure everyone gets what is going on; it is insulting.  The three young leads are also a bit all over the place and while they have nice moments sprinkled through out, you will find yourself cringing at a look or delivery from time to time as well; no one is awful/no one is great.  There are also just countless plot holes and conveniences in the film that will have you going, “really?”  Also just a couple of logistic questions, Why are all the Greek gods British, why is Mt. Olympus connected to the Empire State Building, why is Hell in L.A., and finally why did they rip off Constantine for their interpretation of Hell?  These are just a couple questions, I am sure I could come up with more.

The supporting cast is filled out with a long list of quality actors and they really help keep the film a float when it looks like the kids aren’t going to be able to handle it, they do their best work in Vegas.  Kevin McKidd, Sean “The Man” Bean, Rosario Dawson, Catherine Keener, Joe Pantoliano, Pierce Brosnan, Steve Coogan, and Uma Thurman are the big principles supporters and they all do fine work.  Uma has the most screen time and fun out of them and I wish there was more of Bean, Coogan, Dawson, and McKidd to go around.  Logan Lerman is admirable enough as Percy Jackson and his two side kicks in Brandon T. Jackson and Alexandra Daddario outshine him just a hair, though if they do another I could see these guys growing into their roles and bring a bit more to the table.

In the end, Percy Jackson is a nice comeback for Chris Columbus after the atrocious “I Love You Beth Cooper,” and he proves he still knows how to direct.  While he didn’t knock it out of the park, this is a nice base to a potentially fun franchise, if successful, that I wouldn’t mind seeing where it goes.  This film though does have some issues that hold back its high points and if they can iron out the scripts plot holes and not dumb them down there might be some more fun to be had here.  As it stands, the Percy Jackson franchise is off to a decent enough start even if it doesn’t hold a candle to other established franchises it is trying to mirror.

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief is a C+


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