Percy Jackson: The Lightning Thief (2010) – Revisited

Directed by – Chris Columbus
Written by – Craig Titley
Based on The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan
Starring – Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Jake Abel, Alexandra Daddario, Sean Bean, Pierce Brosnan, Rosario Dawson, Uma Thurman & Steve Coogan

It was inevitable really; the second the conclusion to the Harry Potter saga was announced you just knew a stampede of lesser adaptations would soon come marching over the mountain seeking their own moment in the sun. And march they did; in the last five years we’ve been subject to a ceaseless onslaught of “youth fiction” adaptations, with everything from The Hunger Games to The Host, from How I Live Now to Hugo (that’s just one letter of the alphabet!) and everything in between wanting to claim a seat at the table. For someone with a general distaste for most things “youth fiction”, the entire debacle fills me with exhaustion and dread. A few diamonds in the rough slip through now and then (I, for example, have no real quibble with The Hunger Games, and Hugo is pretty damn good) but for the most part they’re all soulless, borderline-plagiaristic cash-cows that instil in me a genuine sense of hatred and sociopathy.

At this point, before the rant kicks off properly, I should probably inform you that I’m someone who has never understood the whole “Potter” thing anyway. I quite like Alfonso Cuarón’s (Y Tu Mama También, Gravity) take on The Prisoner of Azkaban but other than that I’m ambivalent to the entire franchise. Nevertheless, I have a real pet-hate for films that lack all originality and Hollywood’s expertise in this department hit its peak in 2010 when Chris Columbus (the director responsible for the first two – and worst two, funnily enough – Potter films) was hired to helm the first adaptation of the most blatant Potter-rip off of them all; the Percy Jackson saga. That’s right; so unfazed were they by the plagiarism that they just got the same bloke in again…

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that the Percy Jackson saga is a complete rip-off of Potter in the same way that Transmorphers is a rip-off of Transformers (though in that instance it’s tough to decide which of the two is worse…), but it follows the same beats, deals with the same themes and indulges in the same brand of tepid story-telling without offering anything new, despite the fact that one is about Greek myths while the other is about a magical schoolboy. I mean, let’s look at the basics shall we; we have a special boy – Percy – who doesn’t know he’s special until some major shit goes down one day. He’s then taken to a place where lots of other special people live so he can learn how to use his special powers. Meanwhile both of his parents are absent for most of the film, he has two best friends – one male, one female – and the man helping to raise him is a bully. Yep, it’s similarities like that that make Percy Jackson difficult to take seriously.

Percy Jackson & The Olympians - The Lightning Thief - 2010 - 2

However, like the masochist that I am – and in preparation for Sea of Monsters, which I’ll be watching tomorrow – I decided to give Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (what a mouthful…) another go. Alas, it’s just as bad as I’d remembered. It’s not that it’s offensively bad, or even that it doesn’t have a certain entertainment value, but with the exception of a few, all too brief moments, it’s just incredibly boring. The plot – if one can even call it that – revolves around a kid named Percy Jackson (Lerman; The Perks of Being a Wallflower, 3.10 to Yuma) who discovers that he is the son of Poseidon. When Zeus’ (Bean; Goldeneye, The Lord of the Rings) lightning bolt is stolen, Percy is blamed and is soon called into action. The plot then follows Percy, his protector Grover (Jackson; Fast & Furious, Tropic Thunder) and the daughter of Athena, Annabeth (Daddario; Hall Pass, Texas Chainsaw 3D) as they try to rescue Percy’s Mum (Catherine Keener; Being John Malkovich, Into the Wild) from Hades (Coogan; Alan Partridge: Alpha Papa, Philomena) and return the bolt to Zeus. Confused? Yeah, me too…

The reason it sounds stupid is because it is stupid. The plot plays out like it has been written by an overenthusiastic child who likes Greek mythology a bit too much. And therein lays the problem; the film feels terribly childish. It has clearly been written to appeal to an immature demographic with its lame jokes and overbearing melodrama, and it shows an almost offensive contempt for the Greek myths upon which it is based. All of the attempts to modernise the mythology are contrived and lazy, not to mention stupid. I mean come on; are we seriously expected to believe that the Greek Gods would behave in such a petty way? Their conflict lacks tension because it’s based on something so utterly absurd. Worse still, having them speak in modern dialect just doesn’t work at all. The script is bad enough as it is without reducing the Gods to pathetic, unfunny wise-cracking morons. I mean, come on… Alan Partridge is Hades for fuck’s sake! Coogan even plays him a bit Partridge-esque. That’s how little he cares!

Percy Jackson & The Olympians - The Lightning Thief - 2010 - Uma Thurman

And as for the acting… well, ok, here’s the thing; I like Logan Lerman a lot. His subtle performance is the only good thing about The Perks of Being a Wallflower (yeah, I hate that film…) and I think he has a lot of potential as an actor. Alas, his performance here is wooden and utterly uninspiring. You get the impression that he’s totally disinterested in the film; though to be quite honest I don’t blame him. He phones in his performance, as do all of the film’s major stars, and when the actors don’t care about the material it’s pretty hard for the audience to. With a cast that includes Pierce Brosnan (Goldeneye, Mamma Mia!), Uma Thurman (Kill Bill, Pulp Fiction) and Sean Bean, amongst others, you expect a lot better than what you actually get unfortunately.

Percy Jackson is a film that was never going to be very good. I don’t hate it because it’s too inoffensive and lame to be hated. It’s just a very boring, silly film that mimics lots of better films but lacks all of their charm. I have no connection to, knowledge of or care for the source material so I can only judge it as a film on its own merits. On this basis, it’s a total failure. If it’s faithful to the book then the book must be awful too. If it’s not, then the film also fails in that regard. Either way, once was more than enough. It gets half a star for existing and half a star for Logan Lerman looking pretty. That’s it. That’s all there is. It just has nothing else going for it.

And now I’m really not looking forward to tomorrow…

Review also posted on Letterboxd