A high school loser goes to the Olympics! Wait, make that... Olympus! When he finds out he is the son of the Greek god Poseidon, Percy Jackson goes to Hogwarts--I mean, Half-Blood Camp (I shit you not)--to learn to become a powerful wizard--I mean, Greek hero.
Alright, alright. I'm actually not one of those people who will gripe about the story's likenesses to Harry Potter, because I think they're really just characteristics of this particular subgenre of young adult fantasy, rather than actual Potter rip-offs. But seriously, The Lightning Thief (film) feels very much like Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (film). I think we have Mr. Columbus to thank for that.
So here's the rest of the story in a nutshell, for real this time. Once he's at Half-Blood Camp, Percy meets a hot chick (an adjective which I would debate with Mr. Jackson in this case) and discovers that his black friend is really his guardian satyr. Once he is informed that Zeus's treasured lightning bolt has been stolen and Hades has stolen his mom, he decides to embark on an epic quest across the USA to get to Hades and rescue his mom, instead of taking the advice of Pierce Brosnan. The hot chick and black friend catch him in the act and decide to tag along. Along the way he meets several mythical figures and escapes several challenges.
So far so good, right? The problem isn't so much in the concept; it's in the plot progression. Too many transitions leave plotholes that we're supposed to just go with. Why on Earth do they still care about the time limit to get the lightning bolt when they've abandoned that quest entirely to go to Hades instead? Oh, I guess they must be connected somehow, even though the characters don't know it. Hmmmmm. Some of these plotholes can be filled with a sentence or two, but, well, they should have been. Others are just meant to go over our heads. Worse than that are some of the character motivations that have a nasty tendency to be conveniently explained in a brief bit of dialogue, a trend that has become sadly typical of young adult fantasy movie adaptations. "Why did you just do that?" "Oh, for this reason." "...Oh, okay. (moves along)." And this happens again and again. It's very weak storytelling if you ask me, and I'm guessing it stems from a poor attempt to cram as many of the events of the book into the film as possible while fitting it into 2 hours. But I know from seeing good adaptations that it can be done much better than this.
The acting is quite a mixed bag. Percy himself is very good in the beginning at acting like a teenager, but he's much more awkward once he steps into his hero shoes. His black friend, the satyr, provides comic relief well, but seems like a much more generic character when he shows Percy around in the beginning. And the hot chick is just awful. Truly, truly terrible. I don't know where they found her, but wow, I think Miley Cyrus would have played that role better. The adult actors hold their roles much more firmly than the kids. Boromir--er, Sean Bean--is a great Zeus, and Uma Thurman really shines as Medusa, although I fear that even her scene would have benefited from some better writing.
Really, The Lightning Thief has some good things going for it: some good humor, an interesting concept, decent acting, and even some decent cinematography and special effects in the climactic ending. All these good moments are brought down by a very poor script, lackluster directing, and some very awkward transitions and explanations. I'll say this one had potential, and there is certainly some fun to be had for kids and adults, but overall this could have and should have been a much better film.
Caius's rating: 2.5 stars