Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief wants you to cheer for three characters who don’t know how to count. Leave aside the tired hero’s journey (Have a crappy life? It turns out you’re actually special and a cool new life awaits! Jackpot!), the awful special effects, the forgettable characters, and the complete lack of wonder Greek myths set in the modern world should offer, and you still have three protagonists who don’t know that three is less than four. Percy Jackson wants to be the next Harry Potter, but The Boy Who Lived knows how to count higher than two and in his first adventure he’s five years younger Jackson. Percy Jackson may be special, but it’s in that condescending way meant to imply learning disabilities.
It turns out that Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman) literally suffers from learning disabilities. He’s dyslexic and he has ADHD. He’s also an outcast and has a crummy home-life. What does this all mean? He’s a demigod, the son of Poseidon, and now the suspected thief of Zeus’ lightning bolt. This is all news to Percy but it turns out his seemingly handicapped friends are his guardians with the wheelchair-bound museum guide Mr. Brunner (Pierce Brosnan) turns out to be a centaur named Chiron, and Percy’s crutch-wielding best friend Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) is a satyr. So remember: next time you see a kid with learning disabilities, he’s probably a demigod, and your paraplegic friends may be fooling you to hide their mythological creature parts, so it’s best to pull down their pants and check.
All of these are a lot for young Percy and he’s being hunted down for the lightning bolt he doesn’t have. Percy is whisked away to Hogwarts Camp Half Blood, a camp for wizards demigods by his mom Sally (Catherine Keener) and Grover, but before they can all get away safely, Mama Jackson is seemingly killed by a minotaur. Percy manages to defeat the minotaur, but then passes out for three days. When he awakens, he seems pretty bummed about his mom’s death, but is quick to join in the exhilaration and fun of kids wearing battle armor and sword fighting. He also becomes smitten with Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), who is a daughter of Athena and a “master of battle strategy.” During a game of capture the flag, Annabeth thinks she’s defeated Percy but neglects to notice that he’s fallen next to a stream. Percy, the son of Poseidon (and everyone at the camp knows this), God of the Seas (and other bodies of water), is next to the source of his father’s power; powers that Percy shares. So he touches the water, heals, gets stronger, and despite having no training in swordfighting, he defeats her, proving once and for all that women don’t know how to fight and have no place in on the battlefield. However, they’re sure great for ogling.
Centaur Brosnan later informs Percy that the Lightning Bolt must be returned to Olympus within ten days or else the gods will go to war and that will destroy the world. He also tells Percy that his mother is not dead but is a prisoner of Hades in the underworld. Chiron’s sensible strategy: go to Olympus and explain that Percy doesn’t have the bolt (why he’s even accused of having it in the first place is unclear). After that’s settled, they’ll find a way to get Hades to release Percy’s mother from the underworld. Percy’s strategy: fuck the world, go to the underworld himself, and rescue his Mommy.
Percy, accompanied by Grover and Annabeth because Grover is his guardian and Annabeth loves a man who can put her in her place, discovers that getting into the underworld isn’t difficult, but getting out is a bit of a challenge. However, there are items known as Persephone’s Pearls that will can teleport a person out of the underworld if they crush the pearl with their foot. These pearls are located around the country and armed with a magic map, they can find them. So Percy, Grover, and Annabeth now have their quest: find three pearls so they can rescue Percy’s mom and still get out of the underworld.
To recap: Percy, Grover, Annabeth, and Sally need a way to escape from the underworld. A pearl allows one person to escape. Percy, Grover, and Annabeth set out to find three pearls. They’re trying to get four people out of the underworld. These are our heroes.
But if you don’t mind having your lead characters be complete idiots, you get to follow them to three different locations, each with its own pearl and each with a battle against a monster of myth before they can obtain the treasure. And whether it’s dealing with Medusa, fighting a hydra, or escaping from the Lotus Eaters, the only one who can save the day is Percy. It would be like Harry fighting the forces of evil on his own with Hermoine and Ron being deadweight. Percy Jackson is brave, handsome, and afraid of nothing, probably because he’s stupid beyond all reason and he’s automatically good at everything.
There is nothing good about Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief. Chris Columbus’ direction is lousy, the fight scenes are dull when they’re not laughable (there’s a scene where Percy’s fighting in mid-air that is hilarious in its ineptitude), the CG is cheap, and aside from the fact that these characters would fail kindergarten-level math, they’re also too dense to realize that even if they do get out of the underworld, the world is going to end anyway because they didn’t spend their time explaining the situation to Zeus or trying to uncover who really stole the lightning bolt. Percy Jackson & The Olympians thinks it could be the next Harry Potter-level movie franchise, but I wouldn’t count on it.