You know what, I can tell you for starters that this film is going to be mercilessly ripped apart by critics because, cinematically speaking, it’s really not very good. Taking off the arse-bag hat and locking it away safely in a cupboard where it belongs, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief is a real fun teen action film which ticks all the right boxes. There’s a funny sidekick, angst, romance, adventure and peril (“Contains moderate fantasy violence and threat” according to the BBFC classification) as well as a whole pantheon of Greek mythological characters (you like that?) to keep proceedings alive and entertaining.
Despite the list above not really being completely exhaustive or encapsulating all the elements of the movie, it is hard to delve into anything even slightly more specific as to why this film isn’t completely terrible as it all just hangs together quite nicely. No one person really shines in this cast, (featuring such heavyweights as Sean Bean, Pierce Brosnan, Catherine Keener and Uma Thurman) in fact a couple of the casting choices seem somewhat misinformed (but I’ll get onto that in a minute) and at no point does the film really do anything that would rate anywhere close to “Kablamtastic” on my Entertainometer – but all that goes to show is that you can have a perfectly average entertaining experience from an all round perfectly average cinematic outing.
So the gripes then, well there are always gripes aren’t there? Okay so to take a break from the usual “blah blah narrative” kind of gripes I usually have let’s first (as alluded above) talk about casting. I literally have no idea what Uma Thurman did to secure her role as Medusa but I’m just going to put this out there and say she was god awful – by far one of the most misinformed turns by a big Hollywood name since most things that Samuel L Jackson has done. I mean seriously, if any of you guys go and see it, just ask yourself what she did in her audition to get that part. That compounded with the really quite god awful CG snake hair makes the whole Medusa scene one of the more embarrassing elements of the movie and it’s a real shame when, for the most part, the rest of the CG is pretty good. This then raises the question of whether, as a potential new franchise, big star names have been tacked on just to give this fledgling outing that ounce of gravitas or kudos that will get the punters in to see it.
Another strange casting choice lied in having Steve Coogan portray Hades – this guy is supposed to be a real badass, lord of the Underworld – not an aging rocker Mick Jagger type and although that very same joke is used in the movie itself (with Percy questioning Hades’ appearance upon their inevitable meeting) It still feels like the film is poking fun at itself which, considering that critics will probably do enough of that themselves, certainly doesn’t do itself any favours.
I think my only other real gripe comes with the pacing of the story – it continues at a fair pace throughout until suddenly, ten minutes from the end, everything happens at once and the identity of the titular lightning thief is, somewhat clumsily, revealed. This wouldn’t matter so much apart from the fact that although the theft of Zeus’ lightning bolt serves as the key instigator for proceedings, it’s duly ignored for most of the movie whilst the characters embark on a totally non related quest. Numerous questions regarding the theft of aforementioned bolt are never answered and whether this is because they crop up in later Percy Jackson novels or just because the filmmakers thought that no one in the audience would care enough to enquire about them isn’t made clear; but you know what? I cared and was left wanting answers – after all is Zeus’ lightning bolt is so precious that he’s willing to go to a potentially world ending war with the other Gods over it’s theft, you think he’d have left it slightly better guarded…
There are a couple of other head scratchers through the proceedings (notably for me was how Pierce Brosnan fits into that wheelchair and why the hell they all needed to wear such old fashioned armour) but if you’re prepared to buy into the whole mythological universe, these concerns can largely be swept under the carpet.
To wrap up then, at the risk of stating something that I’ll later come to regret, if anything I hope that this first installment is successful enough to warrant the production of the subsequent Percy Jackson stories. If you really think about how good the first Harry Potter film was compared to the latter ones you’ll notice a notable jump in quality as the series progresses as the young actors fit and grew into their characters. That may not prove as necessary for the Percy Jackson crew with them all being mid to late teens already but there is definitely room for them to grow into. I just hope we don’t have a repeat of the Eragon, Alex Rider or His Dark Materials franchises where we get one quite watchable entry then nothing further because of small box office receipts.
Future concerns aside, take it for now that Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief is a fun, fast paced franchise starter that should please its teen target audience well enough – as long as they stop drinking white lightning on the rec and get their arses down to the cinema to see it.