Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief is the kind of movie that would have me sitting front row center, glued to the screen when I was 10 years old. What child can't relate to kids battling mythological monsters while acting out tame fantasies of being a Greek demigod and Las Vegas high roller?
Okay, maybe fewer than I think. You now know more about my childish imagination than I ever expected to reveal. The point is that, for all of its faults, this frisky movie with a clunky title roused memories of what it felt like to be impressed by a movie as a child. That isn't a gift to be taken lightly.
Children under age 15 may be the only demographic this silly, somewhat scary fantasy can logically be expected to satisfy. As a work of art, it ranks closer to Night at the Museum than any Harry Potter flick. But it also carries more weight than the former movie, and is nowhere near as pretentious as the latter can be.
What sets The Lightning Thief apart from other failed fantasies like The Golden Compass and Eragon — even successes like the Potter series — is the way it involves modern juvenile issues in the story. More than any other franchise, this one speaks to children as they live, not entirely as they dream.
Percy (Logan Lerman) is a kid like many others, dealing with an absentee father, attention deficit disorder and dyslexia. But these problems stem from Percy's destiny to become a hero; they don't hinder his quest when he understands what they're about, how they can be used for advantage. That's a powerful message to real children with similar issues, and it's never preached, which likely means more kids will listen.
Percy never knew his father is Poseidon (Kevin McKidd), god of water, who meets with his brother Zeus (Sean Bean) atop the Empire State Building to discuss the theft of his favorite lightning bolt. Zeus believes Percy stole it, dispatching minions to scare it out of him. Percy soon learns that his pal Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) is a satyr protecting him, and his teacher Mr. Brunner (Pierce Brosnan) is a centaur mentor.
Hades (Steve Coogan) also wants the lightning bolt, setting up a supernatural gantlet for Percy, Grover and demigoddess Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) to road trip through. They seek three glowing marbles to transport them to Mount Olympus where Percy can plead his case before Zeus. One stop is Las Vegas where the high life nearly seduces the trio from their task; another is the underworld where Hades lives — in Hollywood. You've got to love that.
The Lightning Thief is intended to kick off a new movie franchise and I, for one, hope that happens. Director Chris Columbus knows something about franchises since he helmed the first two Potter movies. Here, he doesn't try to emulate success as much as poke fun at it. Some of this movie seems a bit cheesy on purpose, especially the flying effects, which shouldn't have bothered digitally erasing the wires.
Yet Columbus occasionally musters his budget and humor to create images that stick with you; Brosnan digitally wearing a horse's body like he owns it, a substitute teacher transforming into a winged banshee, Hades as a heavy metal rocker blithely shape-shifting into a giant, fiery demon, and Uma Thurman looking glamorous under a hairdo of snakes as Medusa.
The result is a movie deserving friends far more than awards, and another chance to impress kids in the front row munching popcorn. That may not sound like much, but how many other movies designed to relieve children of their allowances can it be said about?
Steve Persall can be reached at Persall@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8365. Read his blog, Reeling in the Years, at blogs.tampabay.com/movies.