starring Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Sean Bean
screenplay by Craig Titley, based on the novel by Rick Riordan
directed by Chris Columbus
by Walter Chaw You don't have to have read Ovid to enjoy Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief (hereafter The Lightning Thief), because, hell, no one involved in the production appears to have read him. In fact, having a cursory knowledge of Greek mythology will mostly serve to irritate you, as the picture runs roughshod over a whole other religion whilst merging many of its images with Christian myth in an attempt to somehow justify itself to an imaginary audience of affronted, I don't know, Protestants? What other reason could there be to bastardize the Greek conception of the underworld by mixing it with Milton's? Actually, in conception, the movie's Hades (Steve Coogan) owes a lot more to Peter Jackson's Balrog than to Blake's illuminations, and suddenly director Chris Columbus's motivations come into sharper focus. Not having any familiarity with Rick Riordan's popular tween novels, the first of which is adapted for this film, I can only comment that I also didn't appreciate a Stepin Fetchit character, Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), who fulfills a threefer function as talking animal/pet (he's a satyr), token black guy comic relief, and uncomfortable throwback to the bad old days of sideshow coon. No better way to inject levity than to have a hilarious black guy crack wise, widen his eyes, and declare his everlasting fealty to massah. Maybe he exists under the same rationale as Jar Jar Binks and the Na'vi: that fictional creatures can't be racist caricatures and, besides, this venomous stereotyping is in a children's film, so we should all just relax. Regardless, The Lightning Thief could play on a double bill with The Blind Side for a cozy trip back to the '30s in American cinema.
Frenetic and about as versed in the deep water in which it treads as Twilight, The Lightning Thief is, at heart, a cheap cash-grab at the expense of a lovely, and ancient, tradition in arts and letters. It's unbelievably disrespectful, though I'm guessing the majority of those gathered before it won't care much about that and are well on their way to learning all the Greek mythology they'll ever know through the University of Riordan and Columbus. Taken for what it is without bringing anything to the table, the film is shoddily paced, ridiculously conceived, and so beholden to its CGI that long moments elapse with everyone sitting around looking at things. The structure is episodic and the bogeys it seeks to splash are those of over-diagnosing our children (dyslexia? It's just because you're wired to read ancient Greek! ADHD? It's just because you're battle-ready!) and reassuring that becoming a hero takes not practice, but a fortunate bloodline and quick splash in the river. In fact, The Lightning Thief seems most interested in sort of flaccidly dicking around with parental-abandonment issues and, uncomfortably, with spousal abuse and other forms of domestic violence. It raises issues it doesn't have the balls to resolve by placing them in a context it doesn't have the brains to exploit, leaving this slick, childish, mundane little picture that takes its place in the pantheon as the boy version of the girl Twilight. I guess what it boils down to is that we simply don't love our kids enough to protect them from stuff that makes them more ignorant. Bring on the sequel! Originally published: February 12, 2010.