A brand new Poseidon adventure
WHAT if God was one of us? Joan Osborne’s answer to that was ‘just a slob like one of us’. Chris Columbus (the film director, not the dead explorer) has a different idea. Gods may be poor parents, he hints, but you wouldn’t like them when they’re angry.
‘Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief’ is based on the first of a series of books by Rick Riordan, which are set in modern-day America but inspired by Greek mythology. The movie opens with a warning from Zeus (Sean Bean), whose lightning bolt has been stolen. He wants it back in 14 days or else there’ll be war.
Cut to Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman), who is able to spend seven minutes underwater but suffers from dyslexia and ADHD. Unknown to the teenager, his dad is Zeus’s brother Poseidon (God of the Sea). And Percy is chief suspect in the case of the missing thunderbolt.
The eponymous lead learns on a very educational trip to a museum that Greek mythology isn’t mythology at all, and Olympians do more than break world records. Some brief training follows courtesy of Pierce Brosnan, an apparently wheelchair-bound teacher who’s actually a centaur. The Navan man brings about as much dignity to the role as it’s possible to convey when one has a human head and ‘a real horse’s ass’, as he puts it himself. Then, with the help of half-goat Grover and presumed love interest Annabeth, Percy resolves to rescue his mother (played by Catherine Keener) from the clutches of his evil uncle Hades (Steve Coogan).
There are shades of ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’, ‘The Matrix’, ‘Night At The Museum’ and, of course, ‘Harry Potter’ about this enterprise; indeed, Columbus directed the Hogwarts magician’s first two outings. There’s a decent battle scene in the training camp, and an inevitable outing for AC/DC’s ‘Highway To Hell’ as they set out to find the underworld.
The quest seems a bit half-cocked, but as is de rigeur, it takes the trio on some memorable adventures. The action zips along at a decent pace, and the impending deadline gives us an end point. Uma Therman camps it up as the delightfully hideous Medusa, whose stare can turn anyone to stone. While the use of an iPhone as a weapon against the snake-headed one has grated with some viewers, it’s one of a number of amusing ancient-meets-modern clashes. Annabeth later suggests hitting the road ‘before Homeland Security shows up’, which is one thing their divine parents don’t have to worry about.
There’s a memorable outing for the hydra, the many-headed monster, in a museum after dark. Like the characters themselves, the venture gets a bit ‘trippy’ when we head for Las Vegas and the hotel where you can check out but never leave. But there are nice touches – some flying shoes (with actual wings attached), another outing for the Empire State Building, and the appearance of hell hounds – well, what did you expect near a raging inferno? There are shades of Gulliver in Lilliput about the closing stages.
In summary, ‘Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief’ blows hot and cold. Most of the laugh-out-loud moments don’t come via the script, and in general, it betrays a concept that perhaps falls between two stools. Adults will find parts of it childish, while there may be a scare too many for some younger viewers.
Still, for something that clocks in at just under two hours, it doesn’t feel like a marathon. And in the cinematic bone-yard of February, you’ll see worse.
Rating 5 out of 10