Percy Jackson (Lerman) is startled to discover, after a monstrous attack by his maths teacher, that he is a demi-god, the son of Poseidon (McKidd), and his best friend is a satyr (Jackson). But a war is brewing between the gods over the theft of Zeus’ (Bean) lightning bolt, and Percy is chief suspect…
A fantasy film based on a best-selling series of books. Chris Columbus directing the first instalment in a hoped-for franchise. Dewy-eyed young stars surrounded by quick turns from more famous and respected faces. Haven’t we been here before?
The differences between Percy Jackson and the mighty Harry Potter, however, are as marked as the similarities. Our ordinary boy (3.10 To Yuma’s Logan Lerman) enters a fantastical world when it’s revealed that his absentee father was the Greek god Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), and that instantly creates a darker canvas. Whereas wizards may be eccentric, the Olympians are, to a deity, rapacious, violent and tyrannous. For anyone who knows their classics, therefore, there’s a grotesque undercurrent to the comic marital bickering between Hades (Steve Coogan) and his abducted bride Persephone (Rosario Dawson), and an unpleasant twinge when Uma Thurman’s seductive Medusa notes that she used to “date” Poseidon: in legend, his rape caused her metamorphosis into a snake-coiffed monster.
That said, the action is firmly on a PG level, as Percy dodges monsters on his way to “Camp Half-Blood” to meet his fellow demi-gods. All are barred from contact with their divine parents by order of Zeus (Sean Bean), instantly setting up a whole raft of father and mother complexes for the super-powered offspring. The Dumbledore figure holding these psychotherapy candidates together is the centaur Chiron (Pierce Brosnan, clearly having a ball), but soon Percy, his satyr friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and daughter-of-Athena Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) head off on their mission to save Percy’s mum (Catherine Keener) from the Underworld – and coincidentally save the world.
The plot races, especially by the standards of an origin story, Columbus mixing monsters and emotional beats with a touch that’s far lighter than he demonstrated in the first two Potters – perhaps thanks to more judicious story editing. Here, he skips nimbly between monster-fighting action (a Fury, the Minotaur, a hydra), bits of comic relief (Grover explaining that some demi-gods become celebrities; “like, White House famous”) and the development of a world that invites further exploration. When the biggest irritation is the American pronunciation of satyr as “SAY-ter”, it’s apparent that Potter may at last have a worthy successor.
Slavishly follows every rule of the kids’ fantasy franchise genre, but it’s a well-executed and imagined world. Bet the sequel’s darker.