12 February 2010

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightening Thief

Cast: Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Uma Thurman, Kevin McKidd, Pierce Brosnan, Steve Coogan, Rosario Dawson,
Writer: Craig Titley & Joe Stillman

Based on the book by Rick Riordan
Director: Chris Columbus

: 12 February 2010
Fox, 120 mins., Rated PG

Out of the bazillion of Harry Potter rip-offs to hit bookshelves and eventually theaters, I'd say the Percy Jackson franchise could possibly be one of the few to actually survive the one-note wonder (e.g., The Spiderwick Chronicles). And I say that coming as a bloke who was entirely pessimistic over this series, had no interest in it, and completely wrote it off as a cash-in for the book publishers. Although that may or may not be true, it would be tough to deny that the Percy Jackson franchise has the same time of...er, flare (?) that makes Potter so interesting book after book.

[Turns out Rick Riordan wrote the manuscript for this first installment back in 1994, basically the exact same time, I believe, that J.K. Rowling wrote her Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone manuscript, or at least submitted it to publishers. So, uh, never mind, I guess]

The movie is far more entertaining and fun than it had any right to be. Aside from the predisposed dislike of the supposed 'cash-in', the movie also had another strike against it: director Chris Columbus, who was the mastermind behind the camera for the first two Harry Potter movies, which I consider the least interesting in the franchise (as far as the films are concerned). I could possibly overlook that, but then I have to bring into mind my displeasure watching 2009's I Love You, Beth Cooper, which I partly hold Columbus accountable (inappropriate actors hired and lazy directing). So, Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief wasn't exactly a title I had any intention of liking, let alone enjoying.

To my utter disbelief but ginormous pleasure, the movie's great fun, and far better directed, written, acted, and thought-through than I could have thought. Granted, it's not freakin' David Yates' Order of the Phoenix level of awesomeness, and the script doesn't maximize its ideas and great cast to their fullest potential, but damned if it isn't smart, awesome, enjoyable, family fun that basically everybody can enjoy.

Percy Jackson (Lerman) has never known his father, and lives a rather unextraodinary life with his mom (Keener) and her douche boyfriend. Meanwhile, Zeus' lightning bolt, the greatest weapon on earth, has been stolen, and he's decreed 14 days for the bolt to be returned or all-out war will commence. Little does Percy know that he's the prime suspect, and now all of sorts of Gods and monsters want the bolt from Percy, because whoever controls that power controls the world (or something like that). Percy Everyday Joe life is in jeopardy, and is sent to Camp Half-Blood, a training ground for demigods (half human, half God - born to a mortal and a Olympian God), to hone his, er, 'skills.' When Hades reveals he has his mother's soul, Percy - along with Annabeth Chase (Daddario), the most skilled swordsman at the camp, and Grover (Jackson), Percy's best bud, set out on a journey to find a way into the Underworld to save his mum, or die (although hopefully not) trying.

Notes & Reflections
First bit of goodness, the script is solid. Already at two hours, the movie seems to fly by, and I quite understand production companies' unease when a film runs too long, but Percy Jackson could definitely have benefited another 15 minutes to its running time. Characters needed to be fleshed out a little more than just a single story beat (one wishing to prove oneself; one always wanting to see their mum; one just wanting to save ones mum), and by doing just that, the writers and actors allow room to grow their characters and create a more emotional resonance with the audience. It's serviceable as is, the bare minimum, but these three characters are interesting enough that I would quite have liked the amount of depth they deserve.

As I understand it, the movie hardly resembles the book (in the same way the Bourne movies by no means mirror their novel counterparts), and a lot of material that delves into personalities, character history, and opens the doorway for important plot points in the further installments are disastrously ignored. It's this sort of response that makes me petrified of reading the book, something I really wanna do, because it might impede on my enjoyment of this one. So, I guess, read the book at your own cost (?).

Columbus lucked out with some fine actors. Lawrence Lerman is quite good. He proves that he can headline his own movie, and play a convincing, relatable hero that we can immediately root for. Alexandra Daddario goes all Xena, Warrior Princess on Percy, and is the perfect woman who can be a kickass warrior and a beautiful teenage demigod simultaneously (example: her mesmerizing blue eyes when Percy and Annabeth lock sights for the first time). Brandon T. Jackson gets major props for being more than just the third wheel sidekick who gets to have fun and make all the jokes. Big-timers Uma Thurman (Kill Bill), Pierce Brosnan (Die Another Day), Kevin McKidd (Made of Honor), and Sean Bean (Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring) all appear as Gods, monsters, or Obi-Wan Kenobis. Particular kudos to Uma Thurman, who plays a menacing and sorta awesome Medusa, what when she's not trying to stone you.

Directed with style by Christopher Columbus, the movie looks epic, feels epic, and is just a beauty to watch. Definitely a step up from his uninspired style to the first two movies, and most def his point-and-shoot technique to Harry PotterI Love You, Beth Cooper. Visual effects are marvelous: the Hydra that attacks Percy and his buds is a visual treat of spectacularness, as is anytime Percy controls the water element (such as the confrontation with the Hydra, and later on in a battle with his nemesis). Also major amounts of props for scenes in the Underworld and Mount Olympus. Cool, cool, and more cool.

Awesome Scene of Awesomeness (Spoilers)
Percy, having just arrived at Camp Half-Blood and immediately thrust into training mode, is brought into a game of 'catch the flag.' The only problem: everybody else has swords, and they're not afraid to use 'em. Eventually, Percy fights against Annabeth Chase, the gal with all the sword skillz. Percy gets his ass handed to him, badly bruised and bleeding. But all hope is not lost, as Annabeth crowns herself the victor, Percy submerges his hand in water, and heals himself. Renewed in strength, Percy goes into battle, and shows himself a force to be reckoned with.

Final Verdiction
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is terrific fun, and it's great to see all these Greek mythological Gods and monsters pop up on screen. The larger-than-life Olympians who come across as Colossal Men when they walk on Earth; the monsters Percy, Annabeth, and Grover encounter on their journey to the underworld; etc., etc. I really do hope this is the beginning of a lucrative franchise, because I desperately want to see these characters in action again. Meanwhile, check it out, man! Most fun I've had at the theater all year (thus far)!

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