Disney+ has officially announced that their Percy Jackson TV show is now casting, the new series coming soon. With this news, a retrospective of the original Percy Jackson film, Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, is in order.
Many fans who grew up loving the Percy Jackson series have since found themselves souring on the story the older they get, the books and the movies alike. The books once seemed like the pinnacle of storytelling before these fans were exposed to better young adult fantasy series, and until they matured enough to realize its stark flaws. Even as a kids’ movie, this film must endure scrutiny from an analytical mind and stand on its own. Being for children or loved by children is not a defense for poor quality.
With such an insane cast and the talent of the director of the first 2 Harry Potter films, Chris Columbus, this movie should have been knocked out of the park. Even with all that potential, the film fell flat for most audiences. From shallow characters to a nonsensical plot and a total misunderstanding of Greek Mythology, this film was doomed to fail from its first draft.
It is a tragedy that it is not any better, and for more reasons than just the story itself. Except for Christian influences, Greek Mythology defines our modern society far more than any other culture. From advertising and marketing campaigns to brands and products and our architecture and political systems, so much of our current world owes tribute to those enchanting tales from so long ago.
Despite all that influence, very few creative endeavors exist in homage to that debt we owe the ancients. Besides Percy Jackson and Clash of the Titans, no other major films, TV shows, or books attempt to bring prominence back to these incredible stories, ideas, and myths. The greater crime beyond that misstep is that those two franchises do an abysmal job of accurately portraying the culture and ideals they derive inspiration from. The Greek world is so vibrant and brimming with opportunities for creative adaptations. The possibilities are near endless, yet writers and filmmakers avoid those stories with a strange aversion. Until that changes, Percy Jackson is the best we have, little enough as it is.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief was released in theaters in 2010 to an underwhelming reception. Even though the film made a decent profit, the fans’ responses were mixed at best, dividing so many that truly wanted to love the movie.
The film follows Percy, an ordinary kid struggling with ADHD and dyslexia, who learns that he is the son of Poseidon and destined for greater things on account of his birth. The Greek gods, who he now knows are real, believe that Percy stole the Lightning Bolt, the symbol of Zeus’s power. Zeus plans to start a war with Poseidon if the Bolt is not returned at the appointed hour. With the help of his friends, Percy must quest to the underworld in search of a way to prevent the war. In the end, it is revealed that Luke, a fellow demi-god, stole the Bolt and framed Percy as the thief to incite war amongst the gods. Percy manages to defeat Luke and return the Bolt to Olympus in time to prevent the war and save the world.
A simple enough story that conceals empty characters, lackluster motivations, and middling world-building. Some of the broader world-building issues are the fault of the books and not the film itself, though they still bear mentioning here. If the gods are in power, why are they in hiding, no longer influencing humanity as they used to? Throughout the movie, humans see plenty of impossible things, yet no one cares. At least the books had a convenient plot excuse about mist covering magic and making it seem ordinary. However, this film ignores that concept, allowing the world to be full of idiots instead.
The film would have benefited from a story-related reason for the gods slipping into myth. As it stands, the ego of these gods would never have allowed humanity to forget about them. The very world the film exists in does not make sense, so how can the story work in that sort of world?
When it comes to the dialogue, it’s all cringy, especially the jokes. Everything is cheesy or over the top. All moments of gravitas or seriousness are immediately undercut with a stupid joke, destroying the scene’s tension — a more and more common trope in Hollywood. The combat and choreography in this film are atrocious. YouTuber Shadiversity would have an aneurysm watching the movie, not just from the fighting but also from the nonsensical training arena. Everyone is right on top of each other in the arena. They have archers shooting across a walkway at their horses, all just for a couple of cheap jokes. No one is safe there. These training grounds make Hogwarts seem like a kiddy daycare in comparison. There’s more nonsense like this throughout the movie. Luke’s plan is horrific and based solely on coincidence and luck. At least the books had Kronos behind the scenes trying to weaken Olympus so he could attack.
Luke is the highlight of the film. Even though his plan makes no sense and he’s given terrible dialogue, Jake Abel still created a compelling performance. The broader issues with his writing still kept him from being a great character. However, some enjoyable scenes made the audience connect with him more than the other paper cutouts in the film.
Annabeth is so empty and pointless to the story. She has no character or arc. The actress playing her delivers a relatively flat performance that makes it difficult even to like her, let alone relate to her. The actress has been great in other stuff, but she was just too young in this film and had not gotten her feet under herself as an actress yet.
Grover is also an empty character. He has no arc or consistent personality. He’s solely there as comic relief and serves no other purpose, which is sad because they had the beginning of an arc for him. Grover could have been struggling to overcome his self-consciousness as a junior protector set to guard the most important person in the world. His growing confidence could have drawn the audience to feel for his struggle. That could have been interesting.
The rest of the supporting characters either had no talent or were indifferent and disinterested in putting in the work. Sean Bean’s Zeus should have been the most exciting thing about this film, but he clearly did not care, phoning in his entire performance. Throughout the film, he’s depicted as vain and stubborn, not listening to anyone, but he suddenly believes Percy at the end. The Zeus we saw prior to that would not have believed him. He had no proof or reliable witnesses.
No one else had a character or even tried, except for Pierce Bronson. He was perfect casting and did wonderfully, despite the terrible script. He and Uma Thurman were clearly just there to have a lot of fun. Both were small bright spots in an otherwise empty film.
Logan Lerman is a good actor with other enjoyable performances. However, like Annabeth’s actress, he had not gotten his feet under himself as an actor yet. Percy is the only character with an arc, little enough as it is. He’s too good at everything, too perfect immediately. Percy has a single day of training and adjusting to this new world before he’s ready to take on a quest and fight monsters. Just add a little water, and he’s unstoppable. He even beats Annabeth, the best fighter in camp, on his first day with a Pokémon style power-up. There is not much struggle for him throughout the story. He’s just going from one place to another, easily dominating everything wherever he goes, which is diametrically opposed to the shy, awkward kid he was initially. Without a strong lead with a compelling story, this film never had a chance.
In the end, it is sad that we have never gotten a better Greek story; this one is not worth a watch. It’s mediocre at the very best. Most audience members have no hope for Disney making a better version of this altogether average story, but we will have to wait and see.