A promise is made from the moment the 20th Century Fox fanfare blares and the 75th Anniversary logo pops onscreen that 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.


Larry Richman

Larry Richman

For 20 years I was a professional in the entertainment industry, from commercial broadcast radio in America's fourth largest market to band management to record production. But my passion is independent film, and I spend much of the year traveling to film festivals to see indies and meet the actors, directors, and others responsible for creating them. I'm a writer, photographer, and videographer, currently serving as Senior Vice President for Media & Technology and Public Relations at PROnetworks as well as Editor at Larry411.com

Comments (8)

  • EMC Reply

    Like I said on twitter, excellent interview... When I first read the book I thought to myself this book is a Harry
    Potter wannabe, but it turn out that even when you can find some similarities it is very different in a story-telling kind of way. Kids who read these books will enjoy it because it is an easy read, interesting story, sometimes predictable and in my case for kids with ADHD (like my kid) it is an excellent self-esteem booster; while they learn about mithology at the same time. My kid can't stop talking about the movie and the gods and we can both enjoy the story/movie even better. Chris Columbus has always excellent work and very or even extremely true to book. I wondered about the age differences at first, but later I came to the realization that maybe positioning the movie at the same age the HP movies started might discourage viewers because of similarities or comparissons with HP. Don't expect any wizzards to pop-up in this movie, story is good and well presented, hope they make all the books. Thanks Larry!

    February 13, 2010 at 12:31 am
  • Ethan Reply

    sweet review Larry

    February 13, 2010 at 8:12 am
  • lrichman@pronetworks.org
    lrichman@pronetworks.org Reply

    EMC: Thanks so much for your eloquent and insightful comments. I hope people judge the movie on its own merits and not the books, and I'm happy to hear that you folks did. I'm sorry to hear about your son's ADHD but thrilled that he got something positive out of seeing a kid with the same issues onscreen. What a great role model! I agree about the mythology basis being quite different from Harry Potter. HP was a made-up, fictional world from the head of the author. The Greek myths go back through generations and, although obviously fictional, are much more important from a historical perspective.

    Ethan: Thank you so much. It is truly appreciated.

    February 13, 2010 at 2:50 pm
  • John John Reply

    decent enuf movie....Logan Lerman aside (who Id pay to watch in anything)..the movie wasnt that good. It had potential, but I dont see it being franchise-worthy. It needed prob a $50m+ opening weekend to secure that...

    Well, it bodes well for his Spiderman chances, so Im happy! Tho I did really want Percy to succeeed.

    C. Columbus remains one of the most boring directors out there...and how deluded can he be to 'reality'..[edited due to possible spoiler]
    Good review tho...tho too highly positive...

    5/10 for the movie (had potential, but didnt capitalise on it)

    9/10 for Logan Lerman!

    February 13, 2010 at 8:37 pm
  • lrichman@pronetworks.org
    lrichman@pronetworks.org Reply

    Thanks for the comments, and I'm glad you enjoyed the film as well as my review. One point regarding the target for continuing the franchise -- you said, "It needed prob a $50m+ opening weekend to secure that." At this moment, it appears to be headed in that direction. Friday's box office estimate was $9.775M. With an expected bump from families at Saturday matinees and Monday's school holiday, industry experts are indeed saying the film could reach $50M after Monday. The studio's target was $30M. It's Saturday night now and we may even know in a few hours whether or not the franchise will be kept alive.

    I really enjoyed it. I think most of the more negative reviews are from people who simply had higher expectations. I wasn't expecting much so I was pleasantly surprised.

    I did have to edit your comment due to a possible spoiler, but I understand your point.

    February 13, 2010 at 10:06 pm
  • lrichman@pronetworks.org
    lrichman@pronetworks.org Reply

    Here are the updated industry estimated numbers for Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and the 3-day weekend:

    Valentine's Day

    Fri $14,650,000
    Sat $18,420,000
    Sun $19,340,000
    3-day weekend $52,410,000

    Percy Jackson

    Fri $9,775,000
    Sat $11,500,000
    Sun $9,875,000
    3-day weekend $31,100,000

    The Wolfman

    Fri $9,843,000
    Sat $10,939,000
    Sun $9,845,000
    3-day weekend $30,627,000

    February 14, 2010 at 3:03 pm
  • lrichman@pronetworks.org
    lrichman@pronetworks.org Reply

    UPDATE: Here are the final, official domestic numbers for the weekend of Friday 3/12 - Monday 3/15:

    Valentine's Day = $63,135,312

    Percy Jackson = $38,661,634

    The Wolfman = $35,555,065

    Industry experts say the film did much better than anticipated because its appeal was broader than expected. Audiences were evenly split between males and females, with 53% of support from parents with kids.

    According to an article in Variety:
    http://www.variety.com/article/VR1118015221.html?categoryid=13&cs;= 1

    Pic played as an all-audience film, with adults and teens making up half its aud. "We felt that was catching everybody," said Fox VP of domestic distribution Burt Livingston. "We knew we had the family audience, and the holiday certainly helped it. We got teens, we got adults, and we got families. It exceeded our expectations."

    "Percy" should hold well in repeat frames given the tome's popularity and strong word of mouth.

    February 18, 2010 at 4:08 pm
  • Bart Johnson Reply

    In the first percy jackson it says mr.d had 2 kids with 2 different wood nymphs at 2 different times. but in the third one it says they are twins. wouldnt that mean that there was only 1 wood nymph 1 time?

    July 10, 2010 at 2:11 pm

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