Because I just can’t leave you guys hanging, I’m gonna be writing up each of the films I tapped as my most anticipated of the year. I mean, why wouldn’t I? They were the films I said I wanna watch most of all and I tend to write about everything I see… Well, even if it doesn’t seem important – this movie was poorly reviewed, and despite that, I went and I even paid full price for it.
There might have been a few problems with the film, but I thought it was a good time. It was fun and entertaining, which is all you can hope for in this genre. Most importantly, it made great use of the source material. Mythology was my bread and butter before I got into comic books, followed subsequently by music and then by movies – in fact, I’m sure it played a direct role in me marrying my beautiful Hellenic wife. While hitting a lot of the better known deities and monsters, they still left plenty of room for growth. Not knowing the books firsthand I don’t know what roads they go down with this, but the sky’s the limit, and if this helps get kids interested in Greek mythology, then all the better.
This particular story is about a boy named Percy who feels like the world doesn’t quite fit him. When he discovers that not only is he the son of Poseidon (God of the Sea) but that he’s also suspected of stealing Zeus’ lightning bolt, the shroud of his mundane existence is pulled back and he discovers a whole world of magic and myth taking place all around him, and that most of it is trying to kill him. Somehow, the plot angles away from the lightning bolt as Percy and his new friends (Grover the goat legged satyr and Annabeth, daughter of Athena) go on a quest to save his mother from Percy’s uncle, the God of the Underworld. It zigs and zags, but the structure offers plenty of opportunity for swordplay & special effects. Despite many similarities to Harry Potter, including the element of a mystery, it distinguishes itself by being more concerned with character development and atmosphere than getting to the bottom of who might be the real Lightning Thief.
I did have some problems with the film, beyond some of the usual complaints critics tend to level at franchise tentpoles like these. The first being that for a film that is clearly aiming to be the successor to Harry Potter, they are employing an inferior Dumbledore. While Pierce Brosnan might be a proficient actor, his character, Chiron, might be a legendary teacher (the tutor of Achilles, for one) his role seemed little more than perfunctory, and when he forgives Percy his insubordination it fails to live up to Dumbledore’s. See, in the first and several other Harry Potter movies, Dumbledore makes several decrees againt going to certain places at the school targeted at the student body in general. So when Harry disobeys, he’s distinguishing himself from the masses – the rules are for regular folks, not special people like Harry. When Percy decides to take off against the direct instructions of Chiron, he’s actually demonstrating that he can’t be trusted – that he can do whatever he feels like. How that makes Percy Chiron’s favourite student makes no sense to me. I understand how they’re trying to paint Percy as a bit of a rebel and they want to make Chiron the kind of “Mr. Keating” teacher that inspires unconventional behaviour, but it has to be grounded in some kind of rational framework.
One other thing that is quasi-related to accepted narrative structures in films like this is Percy’s satyr buddy Grover. As the black friend who’s always trying to “get some”, his role as the comic relief was clear, and Brandon T. Jackson would seem like the perfect choice for a role like this, especially after his performance Tropic Thunder. The problem is that I think his dialogue needed another pass through the screenwriting process. His lines lacked true comedic (or better yet, satyr-ic) bite and might have benefited from some more research, which would have offered the film a little more authenticity or “street cred” – they still say street cred, right?
The Verdict: It was good, not great. It’s fun and entertaining, and what else do you want from a movie like this? Is it a worthy successor to Harry Potter, no but that’s setting the bar a little high. At the very least, it was a refreshing change from The Vampire’s Assistant, and I hope they whip up a sequel.