2010's "Clash of the Titans" remake should have been an easy audience pleaser. A remake of the campy 1981 film that served as Ray Harryhausen's cinematic swan song, the film was cast with a bevy of strong actors, despite starring Hollywood's newest (wooden) face of action, Sam Worthington. The result however was an infuriating, sour effort, devoid of all fun (and tension); a film haphazardly working from the "Lord of the Rings" approach to filmmaking cookbook served with a side of undercooked CGI. It's a film that still leaves a bad taste in my mouth and confuses me with its notable box office success. Two months prior though, a film I'd never heard of and didn't bother to see until now, "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" (referred to from here on as "The Lightning Thief"), had (mostly) everything I was looking for in "Clash of the Titans."
While only raking in around 50% of Clash's box office total and being advertised as a kid's movie, "The Lightning Thief" manages to be a surprisingly entertaining film. Like Clash, it features a supporting cast of some very notable and skilled actors. The film based on a recent children's book series adapts the first story of that series and comparisons to the Harry Potter films are inevitable, especially when factoring in director Chris Columbus' work on the first two Potter films. Unlike Harry Potter though, Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) doesn't jump onto the big screen as the young boy of the books, instead he is aged around five years to a 17-year old high schooler living in New York with his mother (Catherine Keener) and sleazy stepfather (Joe Pantoliano). Percy very quickly learns he's a demigod (half-human/half-god, the son of Poseidon to be exact) and his best friend, Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) is his protector and a satyr to boot.
Columbus wastes no time throwing Percy into the world of Greek gods and myths. Percy soon learns that a war between the gods is brewing over the theft of Zeus' (Sean Bean) lightning bolt. To complicate matters, Hades (Steve Coogan) kidnaps Percy's mother and offers to exchange her life for the bolt, which Percy doesn't have, despite all the darkest minions of the Greek world thinking otherwise. After a crash course in combat under the eye of Chiron (Pierce Brosnan), Percy, Grover and fellow demigod, Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), are off on quest to gain entrance to the underworld and plead their case of mistaken identity to Hades himself.
Having never read the series from author Rick Riordan, I can't say how well Columbus' big-screen adaptation is, but, despite having all the hallmarks of his "safe" directorial style, the nearly two-hour film breezes by without too many bumps in the road. Like Perseus in "Clash of the Titans," Percy and crew encounter many obstacles along the way. The difference here is even Columbus realizes an encounter with Medusa (Uma Thurman) needs to be filmed with tension. "The Lightning Thief's" Medusa sequence deserves tremendous praise for getting things right. Thurman is well cast in the role and the character design effectively employs CGI in just the right ways. Columbus' direction is straightforward but will still keep younger viewers on the edge of their seat without giving them nightmares (an admirable task for a villain sporting a serpentine hairdo).
Similar encounters are nearly as effective, but by the time the film pulls into the final act, an older viewer will likely realize the film is very empty on character development. Ultimately "The Lightning Thief" is nothing more than a good-spirited action film for kids that won't leave older viewers fighting their eyelids. Hopefully, the film, like "Clash of the Titans" did nearly 30 years ago, will inspire those fascinated by ancient myths in a modern setting, to seek out the original stories. Regardless, "The Lightning Thief" is a good beginning for what I hope becomes a new series; there are far too few good PG offerings for younger audiences and in that respect the film is a welcome entry.
Despite what sounds like heavy praise though, "The Lightning Thief" is not without some sizable flaws. First and foremost, the main heroic trio is merely adequate in their acting abilities. They never push the limits of emotion (although that is easy to blame on the lean script) and when faced against any of the countless big names making up the supporting cast, their shortcomings are apparent (even for Jackson who was very memorable in "Tropic Thunder"). Fortunately, the gaps in the script are filled by those memorable supporting characters; the normally funny Steve Coogan oozes slime as Hades and his (reluctant) wife Persephone (Rosario Dawson) exhibits necessary sex appeal while never coming close to being inappropriate for a PG film. Sean Bean is sadly on the screen for minutes that don't hit double digits, but manages to be a far more convincing Zeus than Liam Neeson.
Additionally, Columbus instantly dates his own film with some heavy Apple product placement, and hot pieces of pop culture in the form of Modern Warfare 2 and a Lady Gaga song. Some cornball dialogue early on doesn't help matters much, with the biggest offender being an awkward working of the phrase "highway to hell" into the dialogue only to serve as a transition for a traveling scene with the AC/DC song of the same name blasting away at viewers. These problems only hurt the already mundane script and are frustrating, since a little effort could have pushed "The Lightning Thief" past the Narnia films, which are only guilty of being tremendously tedious. Percy Jackson's freshman outing is above average and if a sequel is green lit, let's hope he learns from his few mistakes.
As Fox only provided a screener copy of the film, a proper review of the video quality cannot be given. Should a final copy be provided, this section will be updated to reflect the final version.
As Fox only provided a screener copy of the film, a proper review of the audio quality cannot be given. Should a final copy be provided, this section will be updated to reflect the final version.
The extras are slim, featuring a collection of deleted scenes, a four-minute featurette titled "The Book Comes to Life" briefly allowing Riordan to talk about the genesis of his books, an interactive quiz that will tell you which demigod you would be and last, but not least, the film's theatrical trailer.
An above average modern working of numerous Greek myths, "The Lighting Thief" is bound to please younger viewers. This is the kind of movie that I'd have been obsessed with at the age of 10; however, at nearly three times that age, there's still enough good here to leave me with a smile on my face and wash the foul taste of 2010's "Clash of the Titans" from my mouth. Recommended.