With Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario. Rated PG for action violence and peril, some scary images and suggestive material, and mild language. 119 minutes.
It’s fair to note that if not for the success of “Harry Potter” there might be no “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series. The similarities are obvious – a boy who is a bit of a misfit discovers he has amazing powers due to his ancestry. He’s taken to a special training place with others of his kind and then has an adventure accompanied by a loyal friend and an extremely talented girl. Over the stories, he prepares for a deadly showdown with a powerful enemy.
No doubt some will see THE LIGHTNING THIEF as an attempt to launch another franchise. That wouldn’t be wrong but it would be selling the series short. Rick Riordan’s five books are “YA” (for “Young Adult”) novels, but are entertaining reads for all ages.
This opening entry introduces us to the characters and their situation. Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) has trouble in school while his mom (Catherine Keener) is living with a repulsive guy (Joe Pantoliano). Percy seems happiest when he’s underwater. That’s as it should be because, as he’s about to learn, his real father is Poseidon, god of the oceans. It turns out that the ancient Greek gods have stuck around, but have moved to America.
The story is set in motion when someone steals Zeus’s lightning bolt. Zeus (Sean Bean) suspects that Percy has done it, on behalf of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd). Suddenly Percy is being chased by a Fury and a Minotaur, and finds himself at Camp Half Blood, where the demigods – children of gods and mortals – train to use their powers under the benevolent eye of the centaur Chiron (Pierce Brosnan). Percy discovers that Hades (Steve Coogan) has his mother trapped in order to get the lightning bolt for himself. So Percy, accompanied by the satyr Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and Athena’s daughter Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), are off on a quest to rescue Percy’s mom and set things right.
The cleverness of the books is in taking Greek mythology and adapting it for the modern world. So Medusa (Uma Thurman) shows up running a garden supply store in New Jersey, while the trap of the lotus eaters is set in Las Vegas. Some wonderful special effects make even the most fantastic happenings seem perfectly normal, such as Brosnan running around with a horse’s body below his waist.
Since this is an American story the cast can be more eclectic than the all British “Harry Potter” movies. Thurman is memorably creepy with a headful of snakes as Medusa, and Rosario Dawson bites off one of the film’s funniest lines as Persephone, wife of Hades. However it is the three young stars who carry the film and, if lightning strikes, the series as well. While obviously trying to replicate the magic of the three young leads in the Potter series, they quickly put their own stamp on their characters, with Jackson proving wonderfully weird as the half boy/half goat Grover.
“Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” proves great fun for the whole family. And if it introduces you – and any young readers in your home – to the books, so much the better.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books, the most recent being I’ll Have What She’s Having: Behind The Scenes Of The Great Romantic Comedies. He teaches film at Suffolk University and lives in Brookline.