Ever since the success of Harry Potter, studios and directors have been trying to emulate the success and feel of that first film in that particular series. However, most attempts to start a franchise have gone bust due to poor box office results and lack of interest from the general public. Chris Columbus, the director of Harry potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, is in that club of directors wanting to return to the well and capture that mood his franchise starter had. Here, he directs Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, and it definitely borrows beats from his Harry Potters as well as other beginning films such as The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. That said, Percy Jackson stands out. The film turns out to be an entertaining action/adventure/fantasy for young teens featuring a solid young cast and appealing visuals.
Based on the series of books, Percy Jackson, played by Logan Lerman, is your typical pre-teen. He’s not nerdy nor popular; he’s just a regular, everyday Joe. However, Percy soon finds out that he is the son of the Greek god Poseidon. It is also made out that Percy is in suspect of stealing Zeus’s lightning bolt. Zeus gives a deadline of 14 days to have his lightning bolt returned to him. Because of all the greedy Gods thinking Percy has the mysterious bolt, Hades, played by Steve Coogan, kidnaps Percy’s Mom, played by Catherine Keener, hoping that Percy will cough up the bolt to save his Mom. After finding out more of his fantastical background, Percy, completely clueless at to where the lightning bolt is and is convinced he is not the culprit, embarks on the adventure to the underworld along with his two friends Annabeth, played by Alexandra Daddario, and Grover, played by Brandon T. Jackson, in order to rescue his Mom and inform Hades that he is not the lightning thief. On the trip, the three young warriors run into other characters from the Greek universe including Medusa and a Hydra.
After his fumbles with teen comedy in I Love You, Beth Cooper, it’s obvious that Chris Columbus has a knack for family fare and he should be directing films of the like. This time, he tackles a story that is in the same ballpark of family films but the story is geared more towards a pre-teen audience. His transition from making movies aimed towards a younger audience to a movie like this is seamless. He applies the same beats he used in the first Harry Potter film and they definitely work here. Some may find it distracting that he creates the same moods he’s created in previous work and some would say that he isn’t being daring enough and trying something different but I don’t think there’s any other way to direct a movie like this. The formula works for him and judging by the money and the interest Columbus attracted with Sorcerer’s Stone, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. However, things start to get dicey when it appears like he’s lifting straight from other films. There are scenes that take place at a camp for children of Gods that look identical to battle or strategy scenes from the first Narnia film. That Columbus spin is nowhere near any of these scenes. It is here where it appears like he is on auto pilot and told the cast and crew to watch the first Narnia film and copy the style and cinematography represented in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Other than these few scenes, his ability to direct action and young actors is presented very well. The action scenes are exciting and inventive, although a few of the sequences during the beginning at night aren’t lit well and it’s hard to make out some of the movements, and the young cast has terrific chemistry and deliver their lines with gusto. Columbus is the perfect director for something like this.
I haven’t read the material this movie is based off of but from an outsiders point-of-view, the story moves along swiftly and at times almost too swiftly. During the scenes where the audience is first being introduced to the characters, the development seems a little rushed. We see Keener’s character in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend Gabe, played by Joe Pantoliano, but not much development is made and we don’t get why Gabe is such a jerk. That said, Pantoliano always plays a terrific jerk. After the rushed character development at the beginning, the film takes on a smooth pace. The script also is able to balance realism with surrealism well. Craig Titley, who penned the screenplay, understands how much material needs to fit in each scene and he is able to make Percy, Grover, and Annabeth into well developed characters that the audience can root for. My only beef with the script is that it gets very silly towards it’s third act. At one point, our three heroes are taken to Las Vegas to search for an important pearl. When they are given food that makes them not want to leave Vegas, there is an absurd montage consisting of these kids gambling and Grover, who happens to be part goat, dancing and getting his hooves painted. This would maybe serve as effective comic relief but the film has kept a continuity up to this point. No one who isn’t a God or a child of a God sees Grover with his hooves. So, why is it now that those rules get thrown out the window? Instead of making us laugh, the montage makes the audience scratch their heads in confusion and roll our eyes. Also, the story takes a twist towards the end that seems unmotivated and tacked on. Sure, this climax might take place in the written material but it’s probably established better in the book. Here, we don’t get why certain characters would perform certain actions and, again, it leaves the audience in utter confusion.
In the end, Percy Jackson and the Olympians ends up being a memorable potential franchise starter. After taking the trip with these three young heroes, I wouldn’t mind going on more adventures with these characters and that completes the movie’s goal; to have the audience want more outings in this universe. If the franchise does decide to venture into a second part, I hope Columbus and Titley return and I hope they learn from their mistakes. Overall, Percy Jackson gets a strong recommendation to youths looking for another franchise that echos the early Harry Potter films.