This awful movie was based on a popular book which I haven’t read due to lack of interest in the subject matter and apparent aim at a younger audience than usually appeals to me, The Lightning Thief (Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Book 1) by Rick Riordan. I assume the books are at least somewhat better, because it would be nearly impossible for them to be worse.

Teenage Percy Jackson lives with his mom and his stinky, domineering, violent step-father. I got to the movie a bit late, and walked in just in time to catch Percy openly insulting the step-father. I was baffled by Percy’s demeanor, which in no way was that of a teenage boy mouthing off to an abusive adult, but was cocky and smug without a trace of underlying fear. At that point I thought that the writers and director were working solely from Hollywood clichés rather than attempting to reproduce even the suggestion of actual human behavior. Later I realized that while this was true, it was also true that Percy was a two-note character, and his notes were cocky and smug, with a side order of daddy issues. Imagine Jack from Lost recapping his most annoying moments and played by an 18-year-old who can’t act, and you’ll imagine Percy Jackson.

Percy finds out that he’s the son of Poseidon, and that his stereotypical and unfunny comic black sidekick is a satyr and his sworn protector. (Assigned by whom, given that Poseidon is out of the picture, is never explained.) Percy is attacked by a harpy, and he, the satyr, and his mom run off to a summer camp for the children of Greek gods. On the way, his mom is apparently killed before Percy’s eyes. Percy’s reaction to this is to look sullen and misty-eyed for about five seconds, then to smugly and cockily show off at camp for the next twenty minutes of screen time, without further reference to his mother who was just killed while he watched helplessly.

At the camp he meets the daughter of Athena, who is introduced as being an expert in strategy. (She does not ever strategize during the movie.) She spars with him, then informs him that she has strong feelings for him but she’s not sure if they’re positive or negative. If I could get past the issue of teenagers (and human beings) not talking like that, I’d still be hung up on the fact that to have strong feelings after one sparring match, the actors would need to have chemistry. They don’t.

Hades (character design ripped off from the Balrog in LOTR, except not actually cool-looking) appears and says he’s holding Percy’s not-dead mom hostage. Percy the Cocky and Smug, No-Personality Girl, and Stereotypical Black Dude go on a plot-coupon collecting mission to get her back.

I hated just about everything about this movie. It’s poorly directed, edited, acted, and written. The dialogue consists almost solely of unfunny Hollywood wisecracks. The action sequences lack suspense, the young actors are terrible and all look about twenty-eight, the old pros aren’t as good as they could be, there’s a total lack of genuine wit, and the characters are unlikable and don’t have clear motivations. Xena did this sort of story a lot better.

The magical elements are not well-explained. Once Percy gets to demi-god summer camp, he suddenly gains power over water, the power to heal, semi-invulnerability, and “I know kung fu” instant martial arts skills. It’s never clear whether he always had these abilities but wasn’t aware of them, or whether the summer camp is a magical space which catalyzed them in him, or what. He never struggles to access or use these abilities or seems surprised at them, which added to the lack of clarity of plotting and my lack of sympathy for him.

There’s a running joke in which Percy walks directly in front of archers lined up to shoot at targets. This might have worked if he was clearly doing it to mess with them. But since he just seems oblivious, it makes the hero look like a moron for the sake of a joke that isn’t even funny.

The worldbuilding is inconsistent. The characters sometimes know a lot about Greek mythology, but sometimes implausibly don’t so they can fail to figure out for ages that a bunch of statues of terrified people might indicate the presence of Medusa, and then seem like geniuses for figuring out that Medusa can be killed by a reflection.

There’s never any sense of jeopardy. Percy is given stacks of magical items without having to fight for, earn, or even learn to use any of them. (I count five: a magic shield, a magic sword, flying shoes, a magic map, and the eponymous lightning bolt.) He gets flung around in battles, but not only never acquires cuts or scrapes that way, he never even gets dusty or gets his hair messed up. I get that he’s semi-invulnerable, but a godly dust-protection shield? (The lack of cuts and scrapes is also part of the inconsistent magic, as he does get cut by swords a few times.) Much as Bond’s bloodied knuckles gave Casino Royale an unexpected sense of genuine danger, Percy’s airbrushed countenance drained even the chance of suspense from The Lightning Thief.

Speaking of fighting, it was terrible. The primary move is to spin around in circles, making yourself dizzy and exposing your back to your opponent, and then to smash your swords together. It was like watching eight-year-olds playing with light sabers.

I saw this with its target audience, several 12-year-old boys. They didn’t like it either.
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