Sly shout-outs to Greek mythology will keep adults entertained and a dreamy hero and heroine will give pre-teens something to be excited about, but filmgoers of all ages might end up wishing The Lightning Thief had also stolen about thirty minutes from this fantasy-adventure's running time.
About halfway through Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, I was overcome with a sense of déjà vu: all of a sudden it was 2001 again, and I was at the midnight screening of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone. And I found myself a little, well, bored. What do Percy Jackson and the first Harry Potter film have in common, besides both being adaptations of bestselling children's books? They were both directed by Chris Columbus. Dude needs to work on speeding things up a bit.
For those of you not familiar with Rick Riordan's series of novels, they revolve around Percy Jackson, who's a twelve-year-old in the books, but a teenager played by Gamer's Logan Lerman in the film. He's also a demigod who doesn't know he's a demigod until he's assaulted by a really angry (and ugly) Fury while on a school field trip. His mom (Catherine Keener) finally cops to having hooked up with none other than Poseidon, god of the sea, back in the day. But Greek gods don't make for the best dads, especially after Zeus banned his fellow immortals from palling around with their humanoid offspring. Therefore, Percy's never known who his father was — though the fact that he feels most at home underwater is now starting to make a lot more sense.
His mom finally spilled the truth because Big Bad Zeus believes Percy has stolen his lightening bolt, the most powerful weapon in the world. Percy's done no such thing, of course, but tell that to the Minotaur who tried to smash him to pieces — and then, to add insult to injury, whisked his mom off to Hades. Percy realizes that Zeus will stop at nothing to get his bolt back, and if it isn't returned to his mighty grip within two weeks, he's declaring war. That would not be good.
The only option Percy has is to find refuge at Camp Half-Blood, where all of the other demigods run around in ancient battle garb and train by fighting each other in extremely outdated ways. He's taken there by his best friend/"protector" Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), a satyr (half-man, half-goat) who's been able to hide his furry legs quite cleverly whilst chillin' in high school with his buddy for the past several years.
At the camp, Percy lays eyes on Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) — a mini-Xena warrior princess with beyond-blue eyes and puffy-cloud lips — and starts feeling all funny inside. Too bad she's the daughter of Athena and their parents, like, totally hate each other. But she still wants to join Percy and Grover on their quest to save Percy's mom from Hades… and hopefully solve the mystery of the missing lightning bolt in the process.
Things get increasingly interesting once the trio embarks upon their quest, but unfortunately there's still a lot of filler that Columbus should've cut in order to make the story more engaging. Many scenes, like "The Land of the Lotus-Eaters" (aka: Vegas) sequence, were fun for the first five minutes, but eventually made me want to cry out, "OK, OK, we get it already — MOVE ON!" Then there were the teasingly short cameos by Uma Thurman (Medusa), Rosario Dawson (Persephone) and Steve Coogan (Hades) that left me wanting more.
The good news is that the cast knows how to act, which helped to smooth over a few of the rougher patches of generic dialogue and made the slower stretches bearable. The three leads are downright good-looking, and I can only imagine they'll all be adorning junior-high lockers for months to come. There are also a lot of CGI effects in play and the vast majority of them are extremely impressive — wide shots of Mount Olympus and the Underworld stuck with me long after the film had ended. The only thing that didn't sit quite right with me for some reason was Pierce Brosnan as a… well, no, I won't ruin that for you.
As I've mentioned before, I love love love Greek mythology, and so I couldn't help but get a kick out of Percy Jackson's shout-outs to the gods, goddesses and various creatures of those excellent stories. I just wish that the pacing hadn't been so off — there were too many boring spells over the course of two hours, none of which built up very smoothly to the bursts of action sequences. And parents of younger kids, be forewarned, some of the monsters are SCARY — I wouldn't recommend this one for children prone to nightmares. Overall, however, it's good, clean, fun family entertainment — and if all of the series' fans trek to theaters this weekend to see their boy wonder come to life on the big screen, then I don't think this is the last we'll be seeing of Percy Jackson.