Remember the first time you saw “Harry Potter” on the big screen? This is more like the third time you saw him but with bigger effects and Greek mythology replacing the occult.
Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) loves water. His talent for holding his breath over seven minutes below the surface seems a poor compensation for dyslexia and hyperactivity, but all that changes when he is suddenly attacked by a real-life mythological harpy. Spirited away by his best friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) to a secret location full of other kids re-enacting History Channel combats with swords and sandals, Percy discovers he is a demigod (and not the only one.) While the revelation explains much about his life to that point, Percy also learns that the lightning bolt of Zeus has been stolen… and Zeus himself has accused Percy of the crime.
If Harry Potter got kids to wave wands and pretend to cast spells, how bad could it be to get them interested in Greek mythology and the history that inspired it? As the first of author Rick Riordan’s novels, Percy Jackson learns his perceived disabilities are actually advantages in a world more dangerous (and more adventurous) than he realized. Having never read any of these books myself, the cast seems a bit older than The Lightning Thief suggests for their apparent ages, and it takes far too little to transform the lead character from a zero to hero with practically no training at all. All that aside, the end result is a nice little adventure the entire family can enjoy, and with Harry Potter winding down, the fantasy franchise crown is certainly up for grabs.
Probably the most amazing thing adults will notice is the supporting cast. Like Harry Potter again, when the call went out for players, some notable celebrities stepped up. Uma Thurman as a gorgon? Pierce Brosnan as a centaur? How about Rosario Dawson as the goddess Persephone? Add Sean Bean as Zeus himself and a few of us can chuckle that 006 finally one-upped ol’ James Bond. While most of these are bit parts, the casting adds weight and credibility to roles that are important in this world but might otherwise seem diminished. While I can’t say for sure, there are at least three more books in the Percy Jackson pipeline where I’m guessing more than a few of these parts will be reprised.
The world setting of Percy Jackson plays a part as well, with the modern intruding on the ancient (winged Converse All-Stars, for example) in a way that Harry Potter kept decidedly very segregated (seriously, could you imagine how much more Harry, Ron, and Hermione could get done each armed with a Blackberry and unlimited calling plan?) I’d prefer a mystical netbook with an everlasting battery and a WiFi jacked into the flue network, but I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s hoping enough people discover the entertainment value of The Lightning Thief to justify a few sequels because Hollywood needs to be encouraged to pursue ideas like this (and I’m a sucker for any fight with a Lernaean pyrohydra… look it up!)
(a three skull recommendation out of four)