‘Percy Jackson’ Fails to Deliver Fun Lightning Bolt
The curse of January continues into February at the box office with more depressing attempts at blockbusters and franchise boots and reboots. This past weekend’s attempt, “Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief”, proves once more that a good premise still requires a compelling story and solid acting before it can become the next “Harry Potter”.
Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is just your average high schooler with an emo hair-do and a mild case of dyslexia. But oh wait, he’s actually the son of the god of the sea, Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), and his best friend isn’t just his buddy Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) on crutches but a satyr—similar to a faun. And let’s not forget that his teacher, Mr. Brunner (Pierce Brosnan), isn’t just a guy in a wheel chair but a centaur with quite the large walking staff. Sadly, Percy doesn’t get to learn about all this on his own. Instead, Zeus (Sean Bean) believes Percy has stolen the greatest weapon of the gods, lightning. Our young demi-god only has two weeks to find out the location of the stolen weapon before a war of the gods breaks out.
For all the idiocy “Lightning Thief” dishes out, and there’s enough to feed an audience for two hours, it still manages to be more entertaining than other fantasy disasters of recent years. If this one gets a second shot, and it probably won’t, then it could be turned into something better. It has several of the key ingredients, except entertaining leading stars, but just as Chris Columbus proved the weakest director for the “Potter” franchise, he has also taken down another story here, and this time before its prime.
Let’s get something out of the way up front. Films for kids are better when they consider an older audience as well. “Lightning Thief” settles for pitiful acting and a storyline fit for daytime Disney reruns. In place of a story for all ages is an uncomfortable mix between “Hercules” (the Kevin Sorbo one, not the cartoon) and “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist”. The subject matter is a gold mine, but it gets left in the mud. The gods of Olympus – as far as epic ideas go, what’s better than that? The answer remains a mystery.
Making matters worse, the filmmakers don’t care about the mythology on which it’s based. Medusa (Uma Thurman) lives in New Jersey, the Lotus Eaters seduce vulnerable minds in Vegas, and the entrance to the Underworld is next to the Hollywood sign. Putting aside how stupid this all sounds, one thing stands out as the worst part of all. Nothing is set in Greece or any other origin place of the mythology, robbing the narrative of its historical context for the sake of what? Appeasing American viewers. Those viewers did just fine with “Lord of the Rings” set in New Zealand and “Avatar” set on another planet. Too bad the film doesn’t trust the audience to go where the story should rather than watch as it becomes trapped in the abyss of did-they-really-just-do-that?
Now, how about character and special effects execution? Again, Pierce Brosnan is a centaur. That’s three strikes right there. Percy’s Mr. Tumnus spends far too much time trying to hook up with hotties in most scenes. And why is there a Lady Gaga song in a fantasy film? Lastly, heartfelt moments between fathers and sons shouldn’t happen when daddy could beat Godzilla in an arm-wrestling contest. Remember “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”? That wasn’t serious either and neither is a 50-story-tall god telling his son he loves him.
It’s hard not to notice the odd use of disabilities in “Lightning Thief”. Percy’s dyslexia is actually the hard wiring of his brain interpreting the Greek language. And then there’s Grover with crutches and Mr. Brunner in a wheelchair. This would seem to imply that every “weakness” is a strength, but the more ingrained meaning is that disabilities provide a good disguise from the fantasy world when hiding the son of Poseidon. “Lightning Thief” portrays many stereotypes, including the character of Grover, who is subservient to a white male in a way that is offensive. Fantasy has always had trouble with issues of representation and this one’s got “text book” written all over it.