“Percy, take this to defend yourself. It’s a powerful weapon. Guard it well. Only use it in times of severe distress.”
“…This is a pen.”
If you’ve learned anything about me in the almost two years since I started Just Plain Something, you’ll know 1). that I’m a huge nerd and 2). I sort of enjoy the Harry Potter series. Just a little bit. After much coercion, my friend Nick finally got me to start reading the Percy Jackson series. After maybe the first chapter, I knew I was going to like it. I finished the 2nd book a few days ago and am excited to read the rest. Needless to say, I sat down to the film adaption of The Lightning Thief (aka the first book) with happy anticipation. I mean, the Harry Potter series had managed to keep most things consistent with the books over the course of soon-to-be eight movies. Considering The Lightning Thief was directed by the same man who directed the first two HP movies, surely they could do the same with one Percy Jackson movie. Well, not so much, as it turns out.
Percy Jackson (Logan Lehrman) has a lot on his plate. He suffers from both dyslexia, ADHD and a rotten stepfather who doesn’t treat his mother well. But when his mild-mannered teacher helps him fight off an attack from a fellow teacher (turned monster), Percy learns the scary truth: he’s not only the son of Poseidon, but is the prime suspect in the theft of Zeus’ ultimate weapon. After getting Percy safely to a camp for other children of the gods, his mother is captured by Hades. With the help of Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), daughter of Athena and his satyr friend Grover (Brandon Jackson), Percy will do anything to get her back.
The movie falters quite a bit, but most of it stems from how badly they butcher the book it is based on. Any movie adaptation of a novel are going to have some differences, but this movie seems to go out of its way to be inaccurate! The change in ages is a big issue, and I’ll get to it later, but that’s not even the worst problem. The biggest problem is that entire parts of the plot are just removed, and the rest of the original story is just kind of smashed back together, like a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces. There’s so much off in this movie that this review is easily one of my longest yet, but the points need to be brought up.
In the book series, Percy is the only living hero (aka human son) of Poseidon because he was forbidden from taking a human mate after WWII. This is a huge deal in the entire series; Percy is technically not supposed to be alive and many of the gods question letting him keep living just for that fact alone. In the movie, not only does everyone at camp know who his father is immediately, but his mentor Chiron makes it sound like the sweetest deal ever. And Percy never questions why, when everyone else is surrounded by at least a few halfsiblings, he has no brothers or sisters at camp. Now, in the book his existence is linked to a prophesy that is supposed to come true when he turns 16 (which happens in the last book). The whole series depends on that prophesy, as well as its connection to both a force older than the gods themselves and a magical tree with a dark history that protects the halfblood camp. None of that is in the movie. Absolutely nothing. Percy’s friends Annabeth, Grover and Luke all have significant ties to the tree in particular – ties that at least partially define them as they grow into young adults – and it wasn’t even mentioned. This is important stuff, folks!
Something else not mentioned? The bad guy. That’s right, the main antagonist – the one pulling the strings of this whole conspiracy – isn’t in the movie. Actually, there are technically three antagonists in the books and only one of the minor ones is in the movie. It’s like if they didn’t put Voldemort into the Sorcerer’s Stone film, and made it all about Quirrell wanting revenge for not getting tenure. This is probably the biggest plot hole of all. I’m not sure I can completely explain how much this messes things up without revealing spoilers, but it truly messes everything up. The trio’s journey to the Underworld is simplified, which made it pretty boring. Entire character motivations are turned completely 180, and that makes the mystery of what’s going on far less interesting. We also didn’t get Clarisse, Percy’s antagonistic foil and daughter of Ares. She’s a big part of why Percy’s life is difficult at camp and becomes an important part of the 2nd book. She’s also a pretty complex character, one that the movie could have used to give it some depth.
I mentioned the age change earlier, and it is indeed a problem. In the first book, Percy is 12. In the movie, he’s about 17. That’s a pretty huge difference and just another way they’ve messed up the characters. For example, Percy and his friend Annabeth are strictly friends throughout the first book (the later books suggest a growing romance as they become teenagers, but you don’t see that when they first meet). In fact, it takes them a while to actually become friends. But in the movie, Percy is drooling over her at first glance. What makes this even more disturbing is that the actors who play Grover and Annabeth were around 23 during filming. So, we have actors in their mid-twenties playing characters who were supposed to be 12. Big difference, people. I have no idea how they’ll do the prophesy in the next film.
Those are the majority of the retcons. I might mention some others if they come to mind as I go into the characters and performances, but needless to say, the plot is just all over the place. Are there any good parts to the movie? Well, there are some good performances here and there. Even though I still think the age change was a horrible idea, Logan Lehrman’s Percy was probably the closest personality-wise to the book counterpart. I also liked Catherine Keener as Percy’s mom and Joe Pantoliano as the stepdad. On the good side of things, the actual direction isn’t horrible and the CGI is far from cringe-worthy. The parts kept intact from the book had some of the charm of the original, although the way it was glued together was off-putting.
I really wanted to like Brandon Jackson as Grover, but it was pretty horrible. If you haven’t read the books, you might not be as bothered by his performance, but the character is nothing like his book version. Book Grover is quiet, nervous and wants more than anything to prove himself. The movie Grover is loud, flirty and (dare I say it) “urban.” The flirty thing bothers me more than almost anything else because Grover is anything but flirty. Once we got to the part where Grover breakdances to Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face” and starts hitting on random pretty girls, I got really sad. Book version of the character aside, the movie version is pretty ignorant of mythology for a mythological creature. When the trio has to cross the River Styx, Grover assumes they can pay the ferryman with some “Benjamins.” It painful to watch.
Uma Thurman gets dangerously close to Poison Ivy levels of ham as Medusa. I also hated that Percy was saved by the reflection in his iPhone. Way to sell out, movie. “Trying to decapitate Medusa the Gorgon? There’s an app for that!” Rosario Dawson was fun to watch as sexy and bitter Persephone (Queen of the Dead), although there are multiple layers of retconning for that character. For one, in the books, she isn’t bitter towards her husband Hades and isn’t even in the series until the last book. Also, the movie is set in the summer, when Persephone is traditionally allowed her time away from the Underworld. This means the movie even retcons the actual mythology. She also openly seduces the teenage Grover, which is another level of creepy. The rest of the cast is just dull. Pierce Brosnan, Kevin O’Kidd, Alexandra Daddario and co. didn’t have much to do. During the two Sean Bean scenes, I just kept making Lord of the Rings jokes in my head.
If you haven’t read the books, you’re probably wondering why I’m being so critical of this kind of movie. The thing is, I really liked the book… it deserved a better movie than this. Even looking at it on its own, the movie is just average. With such a strong source material, I feel like they had to be trying to mess it up to mess it up this bad.
Overall: While not the worst adaption I’ve seen, it’s amazing how badly they botched up The Lightning Thief. Just go read the book.
2 out of 5 stars