Over the years it has become obvious that Chris Columbus comes in two different forms. Firstly there exists the mischievous genius who contributed to Gremlins, Home Alone and The Goonies. The other half however is the lethargic filmmaker behind the patchy opening chapters of the Harry Potter franchise and clunkers like Bicentennial Man. Last year Columbus was caught short with misfiring teen comedy I Love You Beth Cooper a film that accumulated only $15 million worldwide and which was subject to some of 2009s’ worst critical notices. Columbus returns to the game with another fantasy property, in this case Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief. The few Columbus devotees left in the world will be pleased to hear this is the director’s best offering in some time, but given recent competition, you would be right to assume that’s faint praise. Lightning Thief does just enough to get by, but the film still suffers from some clunky storytelling and mixed performances.
Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman ) is a dyslexic teenager, more at home in water than he is on land. After a few loosely stitched together sequences we learn that Percy is the demigod son of Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), and that Zeus (Sean Bean) thinks Percy is responsible for the disappearance of his prized lightning bolt. In a bid to prove his innocence Percy heads to the underworld to visit Hades (Steve Coogan), accompanied by his protector Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and fellow demigod Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario). There he hopes to save his kidnapped mother (a thoroughly wasted Catherine Keener) and solve the lightning bolt case, stopping war from breaking out in Olympus as a consequence.
Logan Lerman isn’t bad in The Lightning Thief, the young actor bringing a rough but attractive energy to the leading role. However the performances around him aren’t as satisfactory. Brandon T. Jackson is saddled with some utterly terrible jokes as Percy’s comic sidekick and Daddario is a flat and uninspired love interest. The film has some big names in its casting roster, the likes of Sean Bean, Uma Thurman (a crazed Medusa), Pierce Brosnan (playing a centaur mentor in a few scenes), Rosario Dawson (sexing it up as Hade’s wife) and Kevin McKidd all coast in nothing roles. I’m sure the paycheques were plenty fat, but I would have thought these thespians had ambition beyond such routine and flat screen creations. Steve Coogan is fairly enjoyable in a short spurt as Hades (though probably not as memorable as Ralph Fiennes was in this year’s Clash of the Titans remake) but that aside the pickings are slim.
The film achieves a good romping tone and offers several excellent fantasy set pieces. Columbus handles the effects laden stuff well, and provides genuine thrills for viewers as he propels the characters against the various villains of Greek mythology. The CGI and special effects are for the most part seamless, powering The Lightning Thief on with a true sense of blockbusting spectacle. Individual scenes in the film do work extremely well, and the finale is an entertaining and amply bombastic way to close out the adventure. It’s the raw intensity and creative energy of the action that keeps Lightning Thief watchable, if always far from greatness.
The story stitches together in a crude fashion, and the script is peppered with several derivative stock clichés. The plotline doesn’t roll together gracefully, Lightning Thief maintaining a jagged and bristly vibe, forgoing the exquisitely natural narrative functions that the best fantasy flicks possess. That said the picture is a passable endeavour, technically accomplished and with a reservedly promising performance from Logan Lerman. As for Chris Columbus, it’s still a fair pace behind his best work, but it will serve to mute the Beth Cooper evoked disdain for a while.
Director: Chris Columbus
Cast: Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Pierce Brosnan, Jake Abel, Sean Bean, Steve Coogan, Uma Thurman
Runtime: 118 min
Country: Canada, USA