February 12, 2010 / by tom
Heavy is the head that seeks the Harry Potter crown. So it is for the cumbersomely titled Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. With visions of franchise-driven dollar signs dancing in his head Chris Columbus, director of the first two Potter films, attempts to bring another popular “kid lit” fantasy epic to the big screen. Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is an ADHD-saddled dyslexic with a propensity for holding his breath under water. Unbeknownst to him, he’s actually the son of Greek god Poseidon. He begins the film as regular high school student making his way in the world with the aid of his single mother (Catherine Keener). When someone steals Zeus’ lightning bolt all eyes turn to Percy’s father and, in turn, Percy. Suddenly Percy’s life is a whirlwind as he discovers that he’s been surrounded by Greek demigods whose sole task is to protect him from harm. They whisk him away to a training camp where he is prepared for life as one of them. [morelink]
Comparisons to Harry Potter are plentiful. A child with absent parents and secret powers thrust into a world of magic where he is constantly playing catch-up while simultaneously attempting to determine the exact nature of his lineage. While it desperately wants to fill the shoes of a franchise which is rapidly drawing to a close, it never becomes as a grand in scope or as richly detailed as the world of Potter. Perhaps its source material isn’t as densely packed. Perhaps Columbus just can’t render these things effectively. While he did direct the first two films, they are (arguably) the weakest of the series. It was the franchise’s third film (Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban), directed by Alfonso Cuarón, which became the template for all future Potter films.
However, what Percy Jackson lacks in depth it makes up for in energy. While the actors aren’t on par with their Potter counterparts, they are serviceable in their roles. And the films action scenes are fun. Briskly paced, it never gets too bogged down in its own mythology. The themes aren’t as deep and the world isn’t as lush, but it also sheds much of Potter’s melodrama (enjoyable as that melodrama might be in context). Jettisoning that melodrama allows the film focus on adventure. While it’s virtually impossible to not compare the film to Harry Potter, complaining about that fact is tantamount to complaining that The Monkees weren’t The Beatles. It’s not a great film but for kids biding their time until the next Potter flick, it’ll do just fine.
On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 begin Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and 1 being Hercules In New York, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief gets a 7.