You probably already knew Mount Olympus was the home of the Greek gods, but did you know all you have to do is take an elevator secretly located inside the Empire State Building to get there? I was equally shocked to learn Medusa runs a greenhouse in New Jersey and lotus eaters have taken up residence in Las Vegas. Next thing you’re going to tell me is Hell is located in Hollywood. Wait… What? It is?
Based on the popular teen novels written by Rick Riordan, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is hoping to catch on like Harry Potter at the theaters, so much so the director of the first two Potter features, Chris Columbus, duped Fox into hiring him for the gig. However, Fox must have forgotten this was the same guy that directed I Love You Beth Cooper for the studio only a year ago, proving his talents do have limits, as does the filmed version of Percy Jackson.
Telling the story of its title character, played by 18-year-old Logan Lerman — a gifted young actor who had an excellent turn in My One and Only — we learn early on Percy Jackson is the son of Poseidon, but as it turns out the Gods aren’t the stay at home type of parents and Percy has no idea who is father is. This origin story of sorts finds its footing as Zeus’s lightning bolt is stolen (not exactly sure how that happens), and the King of the Gods places the blame on his nephew Percy and has given him 14 days to return it or a war of the Gods will begin. Scary right? I mean, warring Gods can’t be good and it’s represented in the film by a big scary rain cloud (sans lightning of course).
Seeing how the Gods serve as absentee parents, a magical training facility is set up in the woods for their half-human, half-god children (referred to as demigods) to bone up on their sword fighting. What they’re training so hard to do is never mentioned, but I guess it doesn’t really matter since logic and story details have no real place here. To make up for it the story tries to move along fast enough so you won’t notice. So just as soon as Percy joins this band of forest dwellers it isn’t long before he learns Hades (Steve Coogan) has taken his mom (Catherine Keener) hostage, causing Percy to set off on the highway to Hell with his half-goat friend (Brandon T. Jackson) and the film’s young love interest (Alexandra Daddario).
All of this may sound amusing and entertaining in digital ink and after seeing a couple of trailers I expected it to be just that. Unfortunately it’s just boring. Columbus’s direction of this picture is paint-by-numbers. Its only interest is in getting from A-to-B and doing it as quickly and painlessly as possible. Should the scene call for a big action set piece filled with CGI Columbus delivers it just as expected and as seen in any number of other films like it. Boring.
While the idea of Gods and their children living secretly among us is a fascinating thought, this film is as straight to the point as it could be. It accepts its silliness, but I can’t. Too much goes unanswered and what’s left is, for the most part, uninteresting. It all boils down to people battling CGI monsters or hurling CGI weapons at one another. So much money goes into the effects that the studio hopes you’ll forgive the plot holes. Even worse, outside of a rather cool water-logged finale the effects didn’t do much for me either.
Uma Thurman pulled off the Medusa role with a satisfying bit of menace and charm, but her head of snakes was more distracting than impressive. Steve Coogan as Hades is inspired casting, and I got a kick out of seeing him in the role after realizing it was him, but as the scene progresses he shifts into the fiery God to prove a point and all I could think was Wow, they just wasted a lot of money for a joke that wasn’t even funny.
The entertainment factor in Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is shorter-lived than its long-winded title. The actors play their parts with such lackluster enthusiasm it’s hard to ever get into the story, but perhaps that’s because there is so little holding the story together there wasn’t much for them to get excited about. I’ve heard the books are entertaining, good thing, because the movie’s not.