Whew–try to say that title without pausing for breath!
Some people say that Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is a second-rate imitation of Harry Potter. That seems unfair. There is no way this movie can qualify as “second rate.”
J.K. Rowling is no Shakespeare but she is a competent storyteller. The Harry Potter movies are state-of-the-art professional efforts which are often visually amazing. This movie, on the other hand, is notable for its uninspired story, cheesy dialog, wooden acting, and unconvincing special effects, which it tries to disguise with murky cinematography.
The story is based on Greek mythology, a body of material that has inspired some of the world’s greatest poets and artists. I guess there’s no reason it can’t inspire the less talented as well.
The assumption here is that all the Greek gods and monsters are still around in the modern world. That’s not a bad premise for a fantasy story, though it does raise some questions that are never addressed. (Are the gods from other cultures around too? Does it get crowded?)
Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) is your typical alienated teen. He suffers from dyslexia (though apparently he can read Greek just fine) and ADHD. He sasses his teachers and quarrels with his noisome stepfather (Joe Pantoliano). He is only really happy when sitting at the bottom of the school swimming pool.
It turns out that he is the son of Poseidon, the god of the sea. In short order he is whisked away from his unhappy mundane life and sent to a special camp for training demigods, which of course is run by the wise old centaur Chiron (Pierce Brosnan, wisely disguised with a massive beard.) He acquired a satyr bodyguard (Brandon T. Jackson) and meets Luke (Jake Abel), the insouciant son of Hermes, and Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), the sullen tsundere daughter of Athena. (And wouldn’t that astonish the Athenians!)
Inevitably there is trouble brewing. Someone has stolen Zeus’s lightning bolt and everyone thinks that Percy did it. No reason is ever given why they would think that. I guess he’s just the sort of kid who gets blamed for everything. Nevertheless it’s up to Percy and his new friends to prove his innocence, recover the lightning bolt, and incidentally rescue his mother (Catherine Keener).
Director Chris Columbus also directed the first two Harry Potter movies, both of which were a lot better than this. Probably with them he had the advantage of working with better source material, better actors and a much larger special effects budget.
UPDATE: I have been informed with some indignation that “the movie is COMPLETELY different from the book! Just about the only thing they kept the same was the characters’ names.” So perhaps the main difference is that with the Harry Potter movies Chris Columbus was required to follow the original story closely, while here he was given free rein to exercise his creativity.