When you watch Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief, you may start wondering if it's a straight-up remake of Avatar. The plot similarities are uncanny after a while... almost like the Hand of Destiny is at work. Spoilers...
Consider the stories of both movies: There's a guy, who's just a plain ordinary Joe, and he's got a disability. But then he finds out that he's special, and this allows him to go into a world of strange creatures. And he turns out to be half-human, half-awesome. He meets this warrior princess who's totally bad-ass and amazing, but then the awesome chick is into him, and she sees in him a total sizzling radness that even he didn't know he possessed. Soon he's kicking all kinds of ass — except that there's a thing, a sort of priceless source of power. These people want to get their hands on it, and they'll destroy absolutely everything cool to get it. All that will be left will be total uncoolness. It's up to the ordinary guy to step up and save everyone, while the awesome warrior princess watches and admires him.
Dude! They're like the same movie! James Cameron should sue!
Of course, that's also pretty close to Star Wars and Harry Potter and Eragon and a jillion other movies besides. Percy Jackson is the usual paint-by-numbers "hero's journey" thing, Joseph Campbell reduced to a fast-food restaurant map. There's a fresh new coat of paint and a smattering of Greek mythology slapped on the old chassis, but at every point in this film, you'll know exactly what's going to happen long beforehand.
Of course, the plot, or the story for that matter, aren't really the point in Percy Jackson. To its credit, this film knows it's a silly teen escapism movie, and at no point does it even remotely try to be anything more. Instead, all of its energy goes into creating the maximum amount of silliness and running through all the usual cliches with absolute verve and conviction. Everybody involved in this film behaves as if this is the first time anybody's ever done a "hero starts out as total nobody but ends up being the most awesome ever" story.
There was an awful lot of giggling from the audience during Percy Jackson, and it got louder during the "serious" parts of the film. This movie actually reminded me of last year's Dragonball Evolution, in a good way. Both movies are a goofy, silly ride, without much in the way of character development or plot twists or anything like that. The acting in Percy is slightly less over the top than it was in Dragonball, thanks to a cast that includes Pierce Brosnan and Kevin McKidd — but the film makes up for that by squeezing as much campiness as possible into every single frame.
Logan Lerman, playing Percy, basically spends the entire movie with his mouth hanging open as if he's in an unacknowledged Dude Where's My Car? sequel. (He does not make a convincing argument that he should play Peter Parker, but that's okay.) He does grab the audience's sympathies early on, thanks to his dyslexia and his hatred for his Dursley-esque stepfather. (And the explanation of why his mom is with his stepfather is one of the funniest things I've ever heard.) The film really picks up speed when Percy finds out he's a demi-god and his best friend Grover is a satyr, sent to protect him. (Brandon T. Jackson, playing Grover, is a less-annoying version of Marlon Wayans in Dungeons & Dragons.)
The real gold are all the scenes involving Annabeth, the daughter of Athena, who is a super ass-kicking chick and master of battle strategy (although, inevitably, her usefulness decreases over the course of the film, so Percy can be shown to become the One True Dude.) If you're a connoisseur of scenes where the hero sees a woman across a crowded field and is told "Nah, man, she's out of your league," followed by scenes where the hero totally blows her mind, then you'll love these — director Chris Columbus puts a decent amount of effort into building up Annabeth as this total ass-kicking machine. And she's got great hair, which the camera caresses over and over, and characters even comment on how great Annabeth's hair is.
Seriously, her hair really is great.
Percy, Grover and Annabeth go on a roadtrip in search of the widgets that will help them rescue Percy's mom, and along the way they stumble through the land of the Lotus Eaters (a casino where demi-gods dance to Lady Gaga. Seriously, so ridiculously awesomely ridiculous.) They encounter Medusa, a vampy Uma Thurman. They meet Hades (Steve Coogan, who looks like he's about to campaign for a new series of Knowing Me, Knowing You at any moment.) They fight a totally CG Hydra in a museum.
You'll never guess who's the real bad guy — unless you've seen a movie before or something. In any case, the studio has posted the final showdown online in clip form (see above.)
Mostly, the joy of Percy Jackson is that it's like Percy himself: it has ADHD and dyslexia, causing it to rush through every standard coming-of-age scenario at top speed without wasting too much time on subtext or grace notes or anything. It's pure candy. It's amazing how many films set out to do what Chris Columbus has done here, but forget to be fun. They're too busy trying to be awesome or cool or clever or a good advertisement for toys. Percy Jackson is like temporary brain damage — you'll lose most of your faculties for an hour and a half, but they'll mostly come back.
And Uma Thurman is a sassy Medusa! Come on.