Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief Review: A Muddled Mess

Illustration for article titled Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief Review: A Muddled Mess

Turns out that Percy Jackson isn't a trouble maker with dyslexia and ADHD, he's just the son of Poseidon, and you know how those demigods are.


Movie Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lighting Thief shows what happened when a 12-year-old is thrust into a training camp for the children of gods and soon after runs off on his first epic adventure.

Jackson has to come to terms with his mythological father, discover his own powers and prove he hasn't swiped Zeus' lightning bolt in a two hour movie that seeks to tap into the growing popularity of mythology and Harry Potter.

Classic Tale: Mythology seems to be all of the rage these days, at least in video games. This movie lands neatly between the release of Dante's Inferno and God of War III, both of which deliver classic stories in mythological settings. Percy's story of three challenges, a quick trip to hell and a damsel in distress also works off the same Greek and Roman template that gave wing to similar adventures of Hercules, Orpheus and Hermes. And it works. The warrior's descent into and return from the underworld is rife with literary possibilities, many of which the movie ably taps into.

The Challenges: Before finding his way into the underworld, Percy, like Hercules before him, has to face three challenges. These are the moments, both in their depiction and the clever way they modernize ancient lore, where the movie is most triumphant.

Depictions of the Underworld: While the concept of a journey to hell and back isn't new, The Lightning Thief's vision of hell is a remarkable take on something often overblown or undersold in movies and games. In this movie, the underworld is literally a place of lost dreams, and the way that is depicted is one of the more powerful scenes in the story.

Special Effects: Despite its novel source material, this is a movie you'll only really want to see because of the special effects. Those glorious CGI effects are the only part of the Lightning Thief that shines from beginning to end. And there are some truly memorable moments.


Strong ending: The first third of the movie is a rushed and muddled creation, more confusing than entertaining. But the final act of The Lightning Thief is almost worth the wait... almost. While it's not possible for it to pull together the many loose plot lines and characters spilled across the picture's opening, it does an admirable job of picking the most important parts and doing something interesting with them.

Awkward Opening: The movie so rushes its opening that you don't have time to come to grips with Percy as a troubled child, his parental problems or why you should care about any of his friends, new found or old. The movie wants to get you to the good stuff, the special effects, the monsters, the gods, but it does so at the expense of plot and character.


No Flow: Even after The Lightning Thief settles into its special effects and mythological challenges, the movie skips and jumps across the plot. The threads holding together the movie's challenges and its culminating battle and aftermath are so flimsy that the movie feels more like a series of shorts rather than a cohesive effort.

Emotional Void: Perhaps my biggest complaint about Percy Jackson is Percy Jackson and his friends, his family, his enemies. They rush through the opening moments of the movie result in characters that never fully develop. You don't know enough about Percy, besides the whole son of a god thing, to really care about him. And if you don't care about Percy why would you care about his friends, teachers and family?


I don't know if the lack of character depth is the result of bad writing, bad directing, bad acting, or all three, but the end result is a series of clichéd, flat characters that never develop, never even seem to show emotion besides the sorts you might find in a sitcom. And the experience of the film doesn't change them, but a lack of growth characters lacking depth shouldn't come as a surprise, I suppose.

One could fall back on the excuse that this is a kids movie. But Harry Potter, and an entire industry of children's movies, prove that something created for a child can also be deep, meaningful and entertaining to watch by adults.


Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief uses special effects and interesting settings to prove that the book franchise has potential, but this first effort is a muddled mess.

Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief was directed and produced by Chris Columbus and released on Feb. 11.


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This review doesn't strike me as particularly shocking.