RetroReviews #30: Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief (2010)

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JUNE 11, 2013 SCREENING: PERCY JACKSON: THE LIGHTNING THIEF (2010)

I had no idea what this film would be about when I went into the screening, so I’ll summarize it very easily for my readers. Percy Jackson is an action-adventure Greek Mythology story combined with a teen high school drama. In short, it’s a cross between Clash of the Titans and Harry Potter. Like Harry Potter, an ordinary kid discovers he has extraordinary abilities and is sent off to a far away school to train at his new occupation. But in the case of Percy Jackson, he finds out that he isn’t a wizard but a demi-god, and that his biological father is Poseidon, god of the sea. It turns out that many people around him had known this all his life but kept his true origins a secret from him. His best friend is a satyr and was assigned to be his protector, so he went undercover at his high school as a boy on crutches to hide his goat legs. One of his teachers at the school is really a a centaur with the body of a horse, and he trains heroes on Mt. Olympus and has been monitor’s Percy’s progress all this time.

Yes, the way the story unfolds is ridiculous, and I wasn’t really buying the world that the story was trying to sell. That being said, I had a thoroughly enjoyable time watching the movie, because it has so much fun with its setting. There are plenty of clever ways they spin traditional Greek mythology, and a lot of the jokes in the film were hilarious, particularly the scenes set in the underworld. Just on the humor alone, I highly recommend this film for all ages – you’ll get a kick out of it.

The story isn’t as strong, and part of the reason may be that many of the events invite constant comparisons to other Greek mythology scenes that were covered by different movies. I found myself constantly comparing Sean Bean’s Zeus scenes on Mt. Olympus to the same type of material that Liam Neeson did in Clash of the Titans – albeit with a more “serious” portrayal of the Greek legends. The same was true when our heroes had to slay Medusa – I found myself comparing it to all the other “slay Medusa” scenes in other movies, only this time it was presented with the Harry Potter like protagonist doing it. One scene I did think worked it is own right was the way a particularly Greek mythology story was reinvented for modern times. It involved the characters stopping at the “Lotus Casino in Las Vegas” where the three of them eat lotus flowers and forget their reason for being there. It turns out that the casino is run by the Lotus-Eaters, and they had been keeping people captive for the last few centuries. This segment of the movie wasn’t even particularly humorous or adventurous, (it also doesn’t make sense that teenagers would be admitted into a casino the first place), it was one of the most innovative examples of using Greek mythology in a modern setting.

My guess is we owe much of the film’s tone, story, and characters to the Percy Jackson novels. How much of it was original material invented for the film adaptation, I can’t say. As it stands, the movie is a mixed bag and works better as a series of individual sketches than the “big picture” story it was trying to tell about a meek dyslexic sixteen-year-old American boy discovering that he is half-God and rising to the occasion to become a hero, etc., etc.

Of course, I’m also mindful of the target audience. Twilight was aimed at teenage girls but had nothing of substance from vampire mythology and filled its content with idealized sappy teen romance pap instead. Percy Jackson at least fills its world with clever ideas, funny puns, and cool action-adventure scenes, so it’s much more highly recommended. It’s shallow, but at the same time its compelling.

** ½ out of ****

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