Wednesday, 24 February 2010

FILM REVIEW: Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief


...or the one where Steve Coogan plays Hades. IS THIS COOL? COOL IS IT?

I was in two minds about whether to go and see this because the list of films I want to see at the moment is just horrendous (but stay tuned for my thoughts on A Single Man, The Last Station, The Wolfman, Micmacs, Shutter Island and The Lovely Bones... eventually. God this is like waiting for an article on the top ten fairytales Disney needs to make into a film isn't it?). So in a way, Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief was just lucky - it happened to be on at the most appropriate time on the day when I could actually go to the cinema! Unfortunately I had completely overlooked that it was Half Term week - eeeek! - but in actuality it wasn't all that bad, and they behaved better than the tedious girl gangs I had to bear company with for He's Just Not That Into You. Annoying single women! But I digress...

So onto the film. Well, the first half was pretty rubbish, but I think that's just my adult (technically anyway) eyes looking at what is essentially a perfect 12 year old's movie, with not a lot of explanation or reflection just GIANT MINATOURS (and while we're at it it's My-na-tor but Min-a-tor. You should know better Mr Bond!). So the story of a teenager attending a specialised school for his ADHD and dyslexia finding out he is actually a demigod when one of his substitute teachers bursts into a Fury (incidentally a totally wrong choice of 'monster', a harpy would have been more suited) and yells at him for stealing Zeus's lightning bolt - which of course he hasn't got the foggiest about - is done in about seven minutes. Things quickly progress as he finds out people in his life have known about his little quirk all along and hush him off to a training camp hidden in the woods for all the other freaks like him. He discovers his absent parent is Poseidon, one of the most powerful Gods in existence (ahem), and therefore he is bestowed with lots of watery powers. So that's why he can sit underwater for seven minutes straight without needing to breathe!

At the camp he meets his protector (former hobbly best friend now lustful Satyr), his teacher (Pierce Brosnan as a not quite believing this Centaur) and the token hottie (sword swinging daughter of Athena). It's here he is accosted by Hades in his God form who demands to have the lightning bolt and reveals he'll swap it for his mother whom he's kidnapped and is holding hostage in the Underworld. Cue epic quest to find the Underworld and to rescue her - even though he doesn't even have the zappy thingymajiggy!

This is where things really start to pick up, and I found myself suspending my disbelief (not that the Greek Gods aren't real anyway...) and enjoying myself. The source material the film used from the book was excellent in giving classic myths a modern twist. I was particularly inspired by the story of the lotus flowers being given the Las Vegas hedonistic treatment. But the scene that was the most fun was Uma Thurman as Medusa, turning all the visitors at a small nature attraction into stone statues. And being in heels, leather and sunglasses manages to make Medusa even fiercer than she was before. There was lots of clever use of modern technology in travelling about the country and dispatching of these monsters as well, and I think the mix of old and new fused nicely to create an entertaining fireball of a film.

And so to the God of the Underworld himself - I actually thought Steve Coogan was really good even though he's only on screen for about ten minutes. He managed to play it both straight and classic Coogan - a tyrannical Saxondale if you will! I did keep expecting him to bark "AHAAA!" at them every so often though. The rest of the Gods were pretty rubbish suffice to say, and very underused. There was one particularly hilarious moment at the end during one of their councils where Athena utters the line: "war is not the answer!" - er, you're the Goddess of War, love. Hop to it. (disgusting absence of Artemis as well, absolutely disgraceful.)

The film was mainly dominated by the young cast, who did a decent enough job although the humour was largely dealt to us by the Satyr, and it was very hit and miss (although obviously hilarious to kids). The continued use of the Medusa's head was amusing, granted. Annabeth was competent as the feisty love interest (thankfully there was no cheesy snog at the end), and Percy was charming and likeable as the teenage hero even though I spent half the film working out who he looks like (a perfect cross between Matt Lanter, Ian Somerhalder and Chase Crawford).

It's boisterous and inventive, and Percy Jackson & The Lightning Thief feels like one of those films that wants to be a franchise but is so worried it won't pull it off it crams everything into the first film to make up for any future losses. It does feel very bloated, but as a concept it has a rich layer of mythology to draw on for future adventures (book two sees them going to get the Golden Fleece! hee! It's like Jason never existed!) and a sequel is already in the works. It's a great way to spend a couple of hours if bored, and will be hugely welcomed by fans of Harry Potter and the Narnia series.




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