Saturday, February 13, 2010

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (**)

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. 120 mins. PG. Directed by Chris Columbus. Written by Craig Titley. Starring Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean, Kevin McKidd, Steve Coogan, and Uma Thurman.

Percy Jackson wants to be the next Harry Potter so badly it must hurt. Not only is this a franchise wannabe based on a series of popular children's fantasy books, but it's also directed by Chris Columbus, who made the first two Potter flicks. On paper, this seems like a good enough property to inherit the Potter throne. The idea is solid: children of Greek Gods like Zeus and Poseidon getting mixed up in a battle amongst the Gods for control over the world, but all set in present-day America. There's the hero (Percy Jackson), his comic relief protector (a satyr played by Tropic Thunder's Brandon T. Jackson), and the spunky heroine love interest, all training for battle at a woodland summer camp, led by Pierce Brosnan's shaggy centaur, before taking a cross-country road trip to retrieve Zeus' stolen lightning bolt. The supporting cast is solid (Uma Thurman, Sean Bean, and more), the young stars are handsome and engaging, if a tad dull, and there's a lot of nifty fantastical elements (shoes with wings that make you fly? Cool!), but Percy Jackson is ultimately brought down by two things. First, the substandard special effects, which might have looked cutting edge in 1992, but are hopelessly outdated and clunky in the age of Avatar. Second, the story rips off Harry Potter a little too closely for my taste, and lacks any real surprise. The villain reveal is lame, and the main mystery (who stole Zeus' lightning bolt?) is a non-starter. Also, I've never read the books, but I hear the movie takes great liberties with the story and deviates quite a bit, so purists take note. Meanwhile, Mr. Potter can rest easy. Percy Jackson ain't got nothing on him.

- John


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