– Summary –
Director : Chris Columbus
Year Of Release : 2010
Principal Cast : Logan Lerman, Brandon T Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Jake Abel, Sean Bean, Kevin McKidd, Steve Coogan, Rosario Dawson, Uma Thurman, Pierce Brosnan, Catherine Keener, Joe Pantoliano.
Approx Running Time : 120 Minutes
Synopsis: Percy Jackson, son of Greek God Poseidon, goes on a quest to find the lost lighting bolt of Zeus, in order to stop a war between Hades and Olympus which could annhilate the world.
What we think : PG13 adventure yarn, told with big-budget effects and low-quality scripting, does exactly what the title might suggest – gives you a Greek God conundrum which can only be solved by the young demigod Percy Jackson. Chris Columbus is a man all about effects, and boy do they come into play here – pity he’s not so keen on character development and a cohesive plot. Nicely made, easily forgotten.
Chris Columbus, aside from discovering America, also directed the first two Harry Potter films, amongst others (*cough* Nine Months *cough*), and comes to the Percy Jackson franchise with plenty of ammunition in his arsenal. Yeah, I’m sure he’s heard that joke once or twice, I bet. Columbus, not the explorer, has made a career out of producing the Harry Potter films, although he recognized his own shortcomings to give up the director’s chair on that series after film 2. Obviously itching to get back into big-budget effects films, he’s gone to another fictional literary series to mine more potential gold: the Percy Jackson & The Olympians saga from author Rick Riordan. True to form, the Jackson saga contains plenty of material with which to employ a few dozen highly trained CGI experts and get them to realize your “vision” better than you could yourself, and Columbus delivers what can only be described as the ultimate CGI adventure yarn right onto your screen. Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief (aka Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief in the US) is both a big budget blockbusting adventure, and another in a long line of fine-to-adequate story-to-screen translations brought on by the success of the aforementioned Harry Potter. See, Hollywood looks at Harry Potter and figures, hey, if they can make billions from a series about an emotionally crippled boy wizard and his ginger-haired numskull, surely a few million can be drawn out of a story about a Demigod living amongst us with no clue as to his own identity – until his family issues come calling and he’s forced into action. Surely, right?
Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) lives with his mother (Catherine Keener in desperate straights for a paycheck) and stepfather (Joe Pantoliano, also desperate for some cash) in New York, unaware that he’s actually the son of mythical Greek God Poseidon, God of the Sea. Yup, it’s a bastard, that family heritage. So when somebody goes and steals Zeus’s lightning bolt, Zeus informs Poseidon that unless the bolt is returned within 14 days time (why, exactly 14 days?) then War between the Gods will ensue, and all of humanity could be annihilated. Yeah, Zeus is one crackpot God – throws a tantrum at everyone else except himself for losing the damn thing. Percy, his “protector” Grover (Brandon T Jackson), a Saytr from Greek mythology, and the daughter of Athena, Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), undertake the quest to locate and return Zeus’s missing thunderbolt. Because he’s such a lazy bastard that he can’t do it himself. Wanker. As with any great Quest, our trio of heroes must face demons and monsters, encounter myths made real, and journey to the very depths of The Underworld itself (where a suave and very Steve Coogan-esque Hades resides with his über-hot bride Persephone) in order to save Percy’s mother – who herself has been kidnapped by Hades as ransom for obtaining the bolt. Dare I say it, but the scene has been set for an epic showdown between Percy and… well, whoever is actually the bad guy here, because it doesn’t seem to be Hades.
If I was a discerning film lover, and I’ve been called that to my face once or twice, I’d be annoyed at just how stupid and contrived this film is. Columbus, as a director, lacks the fortitude to ratchet what could have been an epic emotional narrative about a boy and his dead-beat dad (played by Grey’s Anatomy star Kevin McKidd) trying to reunite in the midst of potential war between the Gods. As it is, it’s a fairly formulaic Quest flick, featuring some great-to-ordinary CGI animation and some WTF cameo appearances (seriously, where the hell did Uma Thurman come from?) from some of Hollywood’s elite. I won’t pretend to think the script has even the barest resemblance to the source material, because not only have I not read Rick Riordan’s works, I also haven’t been sitting here thinking “I really must read Rick Riordan’s saga” after seeing this film. Much like the disappointingly threadbare Eragon, Percy Jackson is a film with so much wasted potential it could sink a thousand film studios without pausing for breath.
The script, such as it is, is content to rattle along like a poor man’s Indiana Jones clone, with magic, sorcery, mythology and reality all blended into so much visual bedazzlement it starts to get very wearing. Logic and narrative progression is thrown out the window early on, as is common sense for our characters, three of whom are prepared to go off on their own and battle Hades himself to find Percy’s mom. One of the characters, supposedly in a training camp for Demigods and with plenty of sword-and-sandal visuals around, is seen kicking back with a PS3 and a couple of plasma screens, as if Columbus is trying to make sure we’re aware that although the characters may look and act nerdy and shit, they’re really the shizzle of cool. Mixing metaphors – well, this film does enough of that. Percy Jackson as a character is pretty limited to generic “fantasy” cliches, as well as a fairly benign set of parental figures: his mother is a washout, and almost unfit to be his legal guardian (a hint in the story tries to explain it, but the logic of having a stinking, reprehensible stepfather to “mask the smell” of Percy from the Gods will induce a groan of despair from all but the most intellectually impaired viewer) and his stepfather Gabe is stinking and reprehensible… for no real reason other than to allow Jackson the character motivation to leave for Olympus and all its adventures.
Percy’s friend Grover, a Satyr with the mad skills of hooking up with the ladies and of spending way too little time actually “protecting” Percy, is played with a modicum of humor by Brandon T Jackson – Jackson looks for all the world in this like Héctor Jiménez’ Mr Tumnus impression in Epic Movie – but the character is crippled by being a parody of itself: Grover is the “token black sidekick who could be killed off at any moment”, complete with “I’ll sacrifice myself for the rest of you because I’m the token black sidekick” to boot – I slapped my thigh and laughed my ass off when this happened. You should too. Annabeth, played by a radiant Alexandra Daddario, is your standard Hero Warrior Xena Princess Clone (whatever, it’s been a while…) complete with sword and a hotness level approaching the equivalent of molten magma (hat’s off to you Dr Evil, you got me thinking about “mahh-gmaa”) but her character doesn’t do much except take the focus off Percy – she’s a story catalyst and does little to further the narrative as a whole. I even wanted to see more of her back-story regarding her relationship with her mother Athena, but Columbus gives us a five second longing glance between the two before he switches back to Percy. Apparently, Gods aren’t allowed to have any contact with their children (because all Gods come down to screw around with humans at some point, siring a few bastards along the way…. Greek mythology is warped like that!) at the say-so of perennial downer Zeus. Seriously, dude, you need to lighten up.
Anyway, with Tweedle Dim and Tweedle Hotty at his side, Percy takes on the usurping backstabber responsible for the titular thievery (I wont spoil it, but it’s not hard to guess who the traitor is) in a showdown above New York city – I also want to complain a little about the hubris inherent in having the earthly link to Olympus directly above the Empire State Building… if you’re going to have it above a really tall building of significant height, I think there’s a few buildings in Dubai that might be more appropriate. The story throws all the classic Greek myths at us, from Medusa to the Hydra and the Ferryman himself, Charon. It’s slickly presented, but wholly unremarkable, much like sprinkling sugar on your cereal, it amount to a short burst of energy but little else. The script isn’t developed enough to warrant caring about the characters, nor is it sturdy enough to support logical progression and the giant plot holes that threaten to undo all Columbus’
good average work. Columbus doesn’t seem to care, zipping the film along from one CGI set-piece to the next with barely a pause for breath. I guess if it’s a film made simply for the visuals that you’re after, Percy Jackson ticks all the boxes. If it’s entertainment designed to sell merchandise, I can see 20th Century Fox’s eyes rolling back as the loot piles up…. almost.This isn’t a concept which will move more lunchboxes festooned with Lerman’s vaguely Zac Efron-esque mug, nor is it a concept which lends itself to multiple cinematic outings, at least, not any more. Columbus has blown his wad too early, if he intended this film to be a launching pad for a new film franchise. He’s given us Zeus (a snarling Sean Bean), Hades (a wonderful Steve Coogan – duh, perfect casting!) and the very depths of the Underworld, as well as the more popular mythological figures such as the Hydra, Medusa and various beasts of Hell – he’s even included Pierce Brosnan as a vaguely Sean Connery-sounding centaur, ostensibly as the fill-in role of Dumbledore in this series. In short, he’s held nothing back, and consequently, were a sequel to be made, the big guns have all been fired.
I don’t want to sound like I sat there watching this film with a frown on my face, because I didn’t. I actually had a good time with this film, but in reflection I think it’s a superficial sugar high which is soon followed by a despairing crash-and-burn of disappointment. The characters behave in ways so far removed from reality it’s stupefying, the story progresses without logical or rational cohesion, and the assault on the sense of Columbus money-shot extravaganza of effects is discombobulating after the first twenty or so minutes. It’s enjoyable, but doesn’t bear up to even the mildest scrutiny. Which, considering the money thrown at this thing, is perhaps the biggest disappointment.
Oh, for those who don’t get the reference, Percy is short for Perseus, the actual son of Greek God Poseidon. Spoiler.
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