At The Picture Show
God of mediocrity
Columbus once again brings nothing to the table in 'Percy Jackson'
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
20th Century Fox
Director: Chris Columbus
Screenplay: Craig Titley, based on the novel by Rick Riordan
Starring: BLogan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Pierce Brosnan, Sean Bean,
Rosario Dawson, Uma Thurman, Kevin McKidd, Catherine Keener, Joe Pantoliano, Jake Abel
and Steve Coogan
Rated PG / 1 hour, 58 minutes
(out of four)
Only a director like Chris Columbus could take a scene in which the doorway to hell is
Hollywood - literally, right through the famous Hollywood sign - and fail to see the humor, or
even the significance. For all he cares, it might as well have been a gas station or, I don't know,
a normal mountain without one of the world's most famous landmarks on it.
Those are the kinds of nuances and details that Columbus can casually gloss over without a
second thought, but which a good director might actually do something with. Otherwise, what's
the point of having it in there in the first place? If he directs a movie, rest assured he will see
only what exists at face value. And even that will manage to be rather humdrum.
Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief
marks the second time he has adapted the first book in a popular fantasy series - and if the
trajectory of the Harry Potter films is any indication, this franchise will be a lot better off once
But who's to say this series will even get that far? This film doesn't give any possible
successors much of interest to work with - and even the film's best ideas (which I assume come
largely from novelist Rick Riordan) get swallowed up by the banal functionality of Columbus
and screenwriter Craig Titley.
Consider how they introduce basic details of the main character, Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman).
He's your typical middle-class teenager who happens to be struggling with some developmental
disorders. How do we know this? Because Percy himself announces it when he comes home
from school one day: "This dyslexia is getting worse," he says. "Or maybe it's the ADHD."
Voila! EXPOSITION! It's as easy as that, folks.
Why not actually cozy up with the character and let us
understand what his daily experience is like, instead of just being told in three seconds of
throwaway dialogue? Instead of letting us empathize with the character, we're essentially being
instructed to see him only as a collection of disconnected traits that the filmmakers hope will add
up to something resembling a character. "Alright guys, let's tell the audience he has dyslexia,
then tell them he has ADHD, and then let's have him stand up for his dear old mum's honor in a
completely forced exchange with his lousy stepfather. Done! Now THAT's character
What the plot boils down to is, Percy is actually a demigod with special powers who is recruited
to join fellow demigods in order to stop a pending war between Poseidon (Kevin McKidd) and
Zeus (Sean Bean). Percy is accused of having stolen Zeus' all-powerful lightning bolt, and is out
to prove his innocence. (After he learns how to use and control his powers, of course.) What
proceeds is equal parts Harry Potter and National Treasure, as Percy and his two pals set off on
a scavenger hunt.
The most distressing thing about the film is the utter lack of creativity within any of its plot
inventions or even its set-up. Case in point: If I told you that Percy is joined at the hip with his
best friend, what archetype would you expect that best friend to be?
If you answered, "a hilarious black guy who serves as the comic relief," you would be correct.
Ya know, just once I'd like to see that dynamic reserved. I mean, come on, that sounds like a
Morgan Freeman/Robin Williams vehicle waiting to happen. (And get this - I'm really on to
something here - they could both be cops!)
The best sequence in Percy Jackson involves a rather
mysterious Las Vegas casino harboring a sinister secret about itself. What exactly that secret is,
I can't reveal, but the sequence is the most interesting one in the film and I enjoyed some of the
details in the casino's production design.
Another of the film's saving graces is Steve Coogan, who plays Hades in exactly the way you'd
hope Steve Coogan would play Hades. He temporarily lifts the film from the rather dreary
doldrums of its structural monotony - one of those delightful performances that amounts to little
more than a cameo, but makes you wish would have lasted a whole lot longer. The scenes in
Hades make for one of the film's stronger passages, not only because of Coogan but also the
casting, as Persephone, of the fantastic Rosario Dawson, and the prominence of her ample
But I digress. The film is so tone deaf that it doesn't even seem to have any idea what to do with
the death (or apparent death) of a major character early in the film. As one acquaintance of mine
pointed out, the character to whom this death should mean the most responds with what can
almost be described as nonchalance.
There are moments to enjoy in The Lightning Thief, and many more moments that we wish we
could enjoy more than we actually do. A good fantasy film like this is not only imaginative in its
own right, but gets our own wheels turning. This one, however, is so dreadfully straightforward
and uninspired, it leaves little to the imagination. Not even its own.
Read more by Chris Bellamy