Copyright © 2010 by 20th Century Fox
Based on a series of books by Rick Riordan, The Lightning Thief introduces audiences to Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman), the titular character who seems to be dyslexic and has the ability to be underwater for a substantial amount of time. It is later revealed that he is a demigod, son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), Lord of the Sea. When he is accused of stealing Zeus’ (Sean Bean) lightning bolt, he becomes a target of Hades (Steve Coogan), brother to Zeus and Poseidon, wanting the bolt for himself to wage war against his brothers who made him keeper of the Underworld as punishment for prior wrongdoings. Thinking that Percy has the bolt, Hades holds his mother, Sally (Catherine Keener) hostage but he is unfazed by this ordeal and along with his best friend, Grover Underwood (Brandon T. Jackson) and rival turned ally, Annabeth Chase (Alexandra Daddario), they orchestrate a daring rescue mission to free Sally from the Underworld.
During its release, the only thing making waves for ‘The Lightning Thief’ was the constant comparison that it was another ‘Harry Potter’ wannabe but devoid of all the awe, charm and fun that made the bespectacled wizard’s adventures the most successful series as of now. In its defence, Percy Jackson is based on a series of bestselling books combining the modern day era with Greek mythology interwoven seamlessly into new and original stories. It is pretty unfair to be so critical when the main differences outweigh some of the similarities shared by both of these boy wonders.
Sure Harry and Percy don’t fit in well with the in-crowd, discover they are more than meets the eye and are privileged enough to be in magical learning institutions where they are frequently aided by two loyal friends in all their otherworldly quests bestowed upon them. But the latter is also a half-god and son of one of the Big Three in Mount Olympus. The potential for compelling Greek tales given a fresh twist is limitless. And in his film debut, we are introduced to many classic characters revisited in a more contemporary context.
Even though Percy’s age has been revised for an older skewing crowd (and a few other tweaks from the book), retaining the idea that Percy is dyslexic provides a medical angle rarely seen in films of this sort. Viewers are briefly notified to the issues faced if such a condition is not detected early, can prove to be a challenging road ahead in the later stages for development in learning. Nevertheless, such disability can transpire as one’s strength instead and be used to combat evil.
It turns out that Percy’s dyslexia manifested from his Grecian lineage and he can interpret Greek very fluently. The message is reinforced in his best friend, Grover and Latin teacher, Mr. Brunner (Pierce Brosnan) whom appear to be disabled but are in fact his mythical protectors. Grover, played to impeccable comic timing by Jackson is a satyr charged in guarding Percy’s wellbeing while Mr. Brunner / Chiron, a centaur leads all training in Camp Half-Blood, a facility for demigod children to nurture their extraordinary gifts, which Percy joins after an incident with a Fury during a school trip to the local museum. The film does fall into conventional terrain for a bit, but picks up the pace when the three friends leave the camp for the Underworld.
After encountering Medusa (played to perfection by Uma Thurman) at an old garden centre to retrieve the first pearl (there are another two the trio are required to obtain which culminate to a very exciting showdown with Hades), the story’s irregularities are improved considerably with well-timed action pieces and pop references sprinkled throughout the remaining of the film. One does wonder on the children’s arithmetic skills though. If the mission is to rescue Sally from the Underworld and each pearl can only transport a single living person out of Hades’ domain, shouldn’t they be searching for a forth one?
Aside from this goof (or is it?), it is no biggie if you have the King of Mount Olympus on your side. In fact, it is quite a shame that many of his allies and foes alike do not get more than just mere minutes of screen time as there are numerous performances that deserved mention. Other than Thurman’s wickedly delightful screen persona, Coogan and Rosario Dawson are certainly having a ball as the Underworld lord and his long suffering wife, Persephone. Their interactions remind us of a bickering married couple who have lost the spark to love. Equally memorable depictions of Percy’s parents are fully realised by McKidd, Keener and Joe Pantoliano who plays the stepfather.
How does fairly newcomer Lerman hold up against these seasoned but underrated thespians? Let’s just say, he gets to showcase more dramatic depth in another teen angst movie based on a widely read book by a certain Stephen Chbosky. Nonetheless, it is still a good effort. It also sums up Percy’s leap to the big screen. The presentation from Chris Columbus is uneven but the parts that do stand out indicate there is hope for Poseidon’s progeny to create bigger tidal waves in his next Greek voyage.
Rated PG for action violence and peril, some scary images and suggestive material, and mild language