Percy Jackson and The Olympians: The Lightning Thief ought to deliver everything that a big budget Hollywood movie has to offer. With the presence of the legendary Chris Columbus at the helm, one expects no less than stellar production values, eye-popping visuals, state-of-the-art special effects, and a talented cast strong enough to carry Rick Riordan's novel from the page to the screen. Viewers expecting another Harry Potter may not find it here, but they will spend two enjoyable, entertaining hours in the theater and have a wonderful family experience.
Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) thinks he's a typical teenager. Living in a cramped New York apartment with his loving mother (Catherine Keener) and abusive stepfather (Joe Pantoliano), all he wants to do is finish high school and make his own way in the world. But he's not like other kids at all, as he soon discovers. He's actually a demigod - half human, half god - and becomes a pawn in a potential war among the three brothers on Mt. Olympus - Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. Percy is suspected of having stolen Zeus' lightning bolt, and thus begins the boy's journey into demigodhood. Along the way he will enlist the help of a trusty sidekick (Grover, played by Brandon T. Jackson) and a love interest (Alexandra Daddario as Annabeth). Guiding them will be Pierce Brosnan as teacher and mentor.
The storyline is easy enough to follow for even the youngest viewers. Typically, attempting to cram the introduction of a new film franchise into two hours can be quite messy. But the Greek mythology that is at the heart of the narrative is doled out in pieces. Dialogue is well-paced and not lost amidst the action, a flaw all-too-common in this genre. If anything, the film starts off a bit slow in story and character development, with the first half hour dragging a bit. But the speed is ramped up and the scenes become more breathtaking as the film proceeds. Percy Jackson is essentially a road movie, and each stop along the way left me with a greater sense of wonder and awe.
Columbus assembled a team that executes his vision seamlessly. Production designer Howard Cummings, cinematographer Stephen Goldblatt, and editor Peter Honess use every tool at their disposal to create a world where gods and their offspring live among men. Christophe Beck's beautiful score is melodramatic where appropriate but not distracting. Kudos also to sound designer Will Files and his team for powerful, booming effects that perfectly matched the smile-inducing visuals. Having songs by AC/DC, Lady Gaga, and Three Dog Night in the soundtrack was a bold move that perfectly punctuated the many pop culture references that appear in the most unexpected places. Even the product placement furthered the storyline, with Percy's iPod and a well-placed Maserati playing key roles.
Special effects are essential to making a movie like this work, and even the most experienced and jaded blockbuster aficionado should be impressed. Dozens of firms and hundreds of artists and technicians were employed to create Percy's world, as is standard for all effects-heavy movies, but it doesn't necessarily mean the results will be credible. Here they complete their tasks with few noticeable flaws. The effects never feel cheesy or forced. In particular, fire and water are among the most difficult elements to pull off successfully, and in Percy Jackson they're used often and convincingly.
But all the money in Fox's arsenal and the whiz-bang-pow it can bring to the screen is but a whimper if the cast cannot execute the story. An ensemble of some of the industry's most illustrious leading ladies and men provide able support for the trio at the heart of the movie - Lerman, Daddario, and Jackson.
It's always hard to single anyone out in a brilliant ensemble supporting cast. Catherine Keener is heartwrenching as the mother in pain, who survives only for the love of her son. One of our most prolific actors, who can play leading man and character equally well, Joe Pantoliano walks the line between buffoon and lout. He's laughable without being a clown. Uma Thurman is stunningly elegant one moment and hideously evil the next as the cunning Medusa, with a look that turns one to stone. And as mentor and father figure to young Percy, Pierce Brosnan steals every scene he's in and is pitch perfect.
But it's the three young leads who deserve much of the credit for the movie's appeal. Brandon T. Jackson is the loveable albeit wisecracking sidekick. At first it appears that his portrayal is a bit over-the-top and likely to bring farce where drama belongs, but he strikes just the right balance between protector to Percy and comic relief. Daddario is tender when not fierce, and it's that combination of traits that brings a bit of sexual tension into an otherwise one-note relationship. Daddario and Lerman have an obvious onscreen chemistry that is barely discernible but adds a touch of emotion. Most of all, this is Logan Lerman's movie. As Percy, it is he who bears the burden of launching a new franchise and convincing families everywhere that he's not just an actor playing Percy Jackson -- he's a demigod who's been hired to play a kid. Lerman is one of America's most experienced yet underrated young actors. Just 18, he's received notice primarily on television and in independent films. This could be his breakout role, and with a film firing on all cylinders he's got big shoes to fill -- they've got wings, and the film takes flight largely due to his believability and innate talent.
There are far too few family films at the cinema today. Most franchises turn dark as time goes on, pushing the PG-13 envelope and daring parents to bring their kids (or vice-versa). Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is good clean fun, and doesn't need sex or extreme violence to sell itself. This is one film all audiences can see and walk away thoroughly entertained.
A promise is made from the moment the 20th Century Fox fanfare blares and the 75th Anniversary logo pops onscreen that
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- Author: Larry Richman
- Posted: February 12, 2010
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