Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief (2010)
Whenever I mention the Percy Jackson series to anyone over 15, I’m usually greeted with gormless blank stares or harsh judgement about the fact I want to talk about an apparently inconsequential Harry Potter rip-off. Having not read the books, I can’t attest to how faithful the film is (although a leisurely browse through pages and pages of reviews titled things like “Did they even READ the fucking book?!” would suggest the answer) so I’m only going on what the film brings to the table.
“Give me the bolt, lightning thief.”
Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief (known as the streamlined Percy Jackson & the Lightning Thief here in good ol’ Blighty) is shockingly about a kid named Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman), a seemingly average teen who finds out he’s the son of legendary Greek god Poseidon (Kevin McKidd). He’s whisked off to Camp Half Blood, a training ground for other demigods, by his pal Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and discovers that he is blamed for stealing Zeus’ (Sean Bean) bolt, something which will start a war amongst the gods. Under the guidance of Mr. Brunner (Pierce Brosnan) and with the help of the kick-ass Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), Percy embarks on a quest to prove his innocence and rescue his mother (Catherine Keener) from the clutches of Hades (Steve Coogan). Truth be told, Percy Jackson doesn’t really stray too far from the standard kid fantasy plot. Teen finds out he’s special, learns to harness that power, saves the world and promotes the hell out of the originating book series. Some of the Potter comparisons do hold water, but I’ll get back to those in a minute. Logan Lerman is decent as Percy. He’s a bog-standard, good-looking lead and that’s fine for this sort of thing. Brandon T. Jackson impresses as the affable Satyr Grover and gets some choice lines. Alexandra Daddario is good too, but is mostly used as a love interest puppet rather that an actual human being (or demigod, whatever.) There’s some genius bits of casting. If you ever wanted to see a bearded Pierce Brosnan as a centaur, this is the film to hunt down. The burning question for me is how the production company got hold of my teenage sketchbook. Steve Coogan as a goth rock dad version of Hades is brilliant too. He’s not in it much though, but I feel any more screentime would have given him the ability to completely walk away with the film tucked under one arm. Uma Thurman also gets to ham things up as Medusa and Rosario Dawson is great in the limited role of Persephone.
So, back to all that “Boy Who Lived rip-off” shit. It is true that Jeremy Paxman and the Frightening Queef shares some DNA with the boy wizard. Certainly, the very reason it was made was to give Fox a stab at the supernatural teen adventure franchise market. Christ, they even brought in Chris Columbus, director of the first two Potters to helm it. Thing is, as much as I love it, Potter wasn’t exactly 100% totally original to begin with. Take any ’80s kid fantasy film and shake it down to its bare bones and you’ll find the same thread that runs through Potter and Percy Jackson. To dismiss it as a simple rip-off is to do the film a disservice. It’s got much more going for it than a simple cashgrab. It plays with some decent ideas and contains some neat little twists on the familiar Greek myths. For instance, if you’re up on your myths, you’ll know that the gods were a randy lot of bastards who couldn’t keep in in their armoured pants. They would often visit Earth and impregnate mortals before buggering off back to Olympus, presumably out of the reach of any child payment responsibilities. As such nearly all the campers at Camp Half Blood have absentee parents. As Hermes progeny Luke puts it: “Guess we all got daddy issues, huh?”
One of the highlights of the film for me was a scene at “Aunty Em’s Garden Emporium”, a dilapidated garden centre filled with suspiciously realistic stone statues. It manages to be creepy and fun in equal measures. It’s definitely better than the CGI overkill Medusa fight in the craptacular Clash of the Titans reheat, which also came out in 2010. Whilst the “whorish product placement” klaxon can be justifiably be sounded, I loved the neat little twist of Percy fighting Medusa via the reflection off the back of his iPod, rather than the customary mirrored shield. I’d be screwed in the same situation, the back of mine is scuffed to fuck. There’s also a fun scene in Vegas where our trio fully sample what casino life has to offer. It’s a nice spin on the Lotus-eaters of legend.
The film does have its problems. The screenplay and writing are rather perfunctory and aren’t anything to write home about, Then again, what would you expect from the writer of such classics as the live action Scooby-Doo, See Spot Run and Cheaper By The Dozen? It doesn’t really take any time to build palpable world and just shoves our main three heroes from one scene to the next with barely any time to develop. Just because it’s a kids’ movie doesn’t mean you can’t flesh out your leads a bit.
“Be prepared. Everything is about to change, Percy.”
So, Percy Jackson. I like it very much. I’ve got a soft spot for Greek mythology anyway and as far as I can see, the film takes some of the classic stories and repackages them in an accessible, entertaining way. It’s not groundbreaking and certainly not essential viewing, but it’s an enjoyable film that doesn’t deserve the dismissive hand waves given to it by the majority of the critical sector. Sea of Monsters next.