Percy Jackson
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Theatrical Release Date: 02/12/2010
Director: Chris Columbus
Cast: Logan Lerman, Alexandra Daddario, Brandon T. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Sean Bean, Kevin McKidd, Pierce Brosnan, Rosario Dawson, Steve Coogan, Catherine Keener, Jake Abel, Joe Pantoliano, Melina Kanakaredes, Serinda Swan

Based on the popular novel by Rick Riordan, director Chris Columbus gets a second shot at creating a powerhouse film franchise concerning extraordinary teenagers saving the world with “Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”.

Instead of a boy wizard coming to grips with the villain responsible for the murder of his parents, this one concerns a teenager (Logan Lerman) who just happens to be the son of the Greek God Poseidon (Kevin McKidd). Someone’s stolen the lightning bolt from Zeus (Sean Bean), thereby stripping him of that ability, and it’s up to our potentially heroic Demi-God and some new friends to prevent a war between the Gods.

Now, I’ve not read any of the books in Riordan’s series; like “Harry Potter”, I’ll wait for the films to run their course since I don’t want to judge them for anything other than cinematic merit. However, trying to not compare this to Potter’s exploits is sort of like not tasting the difference between Pepsi and Coke. You’ve got a similar set up of teenagers using their instincts and courage to conquer evil they’re only just beginning to understand and with the same director responsible for helming the initial installment, I was interested in seeing how (or if) he approached this project any differently.

Rather than go out on a limb though, Columbus stuck to his familiar guns here and for any of you who enjoyed the first two films in the “Harry Potter” series, you know exactly what you’re getting – which isn’t a bad thing. Fantasy/Adventure films are meant to stir the imagination and provide entertainment for a wide demographic. To that end, Columbus succeeded and while I don’t know if fans of the novels will take umbrage at any changes to the text, I’m hopeful that enough people will see it to allow the studio to green light the rest of the franchise (and Ray Winstone has an uncredited role as Ares, the God of War, so that could be a lot of fun whenever his inclusion is necessary, as it must be at some point in any series about Greek Gods).

Lerman, playing the titular Percy Jackson, did a decent job of holding center stage. There’s a cockiness to his portrayal that works for the character in this film, however time will tell if that was a conscious choice or an element of his acting style. Alexandra Daddario is his love interest (and fellow Demi-God via Athena, the Goddess of Wisdom) and while she did a decent job of complimenting his performance and adding a much needed element to the film, the most remarkable thing has to be that her eye color is real; they’re so piercingly blue that I figured it was contacts and part of the character (the dyed hair color also helps them to pop on-screen).

If there was a weak link to the familiar heroic triangle set-up (yet another commonality with “Harry Potter”), it’s Brandon T. Jackson who plays a Satyr (half-man, half-goat) charged with protecting Percy. It’s not so much that Jackson’s performance was sub-par but that the character is written in a broad, stereotypical manner … sort of in the same vein as Deon Richmond’s satiric take on black characters in otherwise white teen films in “Not Another Teen Movie”. This isn’t quite that egregious but there seemed to be a preponderance of lines more suited to an 80s television sitcom than a 21st century feature film and they often came off as forced and unnatural.

All of the special effects were handled nicely, as was the production design of the mythological world lying beneath the facade of our modern day world (Olympus can be reached via the Empire State building, Hades is underneath the Hollywood sign, etc.). The creature designs were also well executed, although maybe a bit too well as the first two creatures the audience is exposed to (a Fury and a Minotaur) may be a tad vicious and scary for the little ones. While Columbus often handles the more cutesy side of kids films, and none of the creatures in his two installments of the Potter franchise were all that terrifying (unless you are an arachnophobe), he made up for that in spades here. Clearly, the demo for this franchise is more like 10 or 12 years-old and up.

Still, as a card carrying adult (chronologically if not mentally), I very much enjoyed my time watching this initial foray into the world of Percy Jackson and give the film a 3 out of 5. A few scenes could have been done differently to keep it from being too cheesy (the Las Vegas casino sequence being the biggest offender) but even with a few scenes that young kids may find disturbing, there’s no reason this won’t fill the gap that Harry, Ron and Hermoine are about to leave in the genre with the upcoming two-film resolution of their series. Also, should you go out and see this, make sure to say until the end of the credits to see one character get his just rewards.

And producers may want to jump on any sequel ideas quickly, seeing as there are rumors that Lerman could be cast as Peter Parker in the soon to be rebooted Spider-Man franchise. If there’s one negative lesson to be learned from the “Harry Potter” franchise, it’s not to be forced into long gaps of production because the actors don’t stop aging just because the cameras aren’t rolling. (Though it’d be hilarious if they could get Alfonso Cuarón to come in and really add a different aesthetic to the franchise and kick this into a higher gear, as he did with “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”, arguably still the best in that franchise.)