Max DeCurtins wants to tell you all about young Percy Jackson and his Flappy Shoes™.
How to Tell If You’re Trapped in a Movie with Bad Greek Mythology
For an embarrassingly long time I thought this movie was directed by Peter Jackson. Except, no, it wasn’t. The title character’s name is Percy Jackson, not Peter Jackson, and anyway, he didn’t direct this movie; Christopher Columbus did. No, not that one.
We open with a meeting atop the Empire State Building. Because if there’s one thing New York likes doing, it’s reminding the world that the Empire State Building is there. Poseidon (Kevin McKidd) answers a summons from his brother Zeus (Sean Bean), who jealously gripes that someone has stolen his Lightning Bolt. (Try some Cialis, my dude.) Without any evidence—which honestly we don’t even need these days because Truth is Dead—he accuses his nephew, Poseidon’s son Percy Jackson, of having stolen it. Zeus promises war if he doesn’t get his Really Big Weapon back, which is sort of but also not really like Kim Jong Un on any one of his endless days of crazy.
Percy Jackson (Logan Lerman, looking very Zac Efron-circa-High School Musical) has never known his father. He and his mother Sally (Catherine Keener) live with Sally’s—boyfriend?—Gabe (Joe Pantoliano), who is Human Trash™. Percy suffers from dyslexia and sees himself as a fuck-up; Grover (Brandon T. Jackson), his only friend, is Percy’s sole source of affirmation and also his super-secret crush, because honestly the only way this movie is any fun to watch is if you subscribe to the Inadvertent Homoerotic Subtext Theory of Percy and Grover.
I feel it necessary even at this early point to mention:
When Percy is attacked by his substitute English teacher, a Fury in disguise who’s after the Lightning Bolt—what kind of offensive stereotypes are we pushing here, anyway?—on a field trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Grover sounds the alarm and Sally whisks them both away to Camp Half-Blood. I feel quite certain that 97% of visitors to the Greco-Roman galleries at art museums are just there for the Nekkid People and no, I will not accept your alternative explanation.*
(*The other 3% are art students, classicists, and that one couple that never goes to museums and didn’t read the gallery guide and probably are just lost on the way to the café and gift shop.)
Before they can enter the camp, a minotaur—because there’s nothing like mixing your mythological metaphors—attacks them and snatches Sally, who cannot enter because she’s just a mortal. Percy, who is understandably Very Upset by All This, fights off the beast and then promptly faints out of shock. Grover, sweet Grover, elegantly catches him. Brah, no worries, I gotchu!
Camp Half-Blood, explains Grover, is a place where demigods hone their skills and harness their powers. Presumably, genetics works the same way for demigods as it does for us mortals—wide feet, male-pattern baldness, BRCA1, cilantro aversion and all—and I have SO many questions.
Percy is Poseidon’s son. Surely you have not heard the name “Poseidon” spoken out loud this many times since high school. I thought so. He can manipulate water telekinetically, using it to heal or to destroy. When most people think of superpowers, they think of something like this. Yay, Percy! Demigod Rating: 9/10
Luke (Jake Abel), son of Hermes, the winged messenger of the gods, can fly—but only if he puts on the Flappy Shoes™. That’s about it, and once you see that Percy can fly too if he puts on a pair of the Flappy Shoes™, you start to wonder if Luke really has any powers at all aside from untreated bitterness and high cheekbones and a momentary suggestion that he may be good at the video games. At least he can fuck shit up with a sword. Demigod Rating: 3/10
Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario), daughter of Athena, also can fuck shit up! Athena is goddess of wisdom and battle strategy—but also of peace…and handicrafts. Because reasons. Annabeth isn’t exactly busting out the needlepoint or repairing the scabbard of her sword, so there’s clearly something questionable going on with the genetics here. I’m thinking of asking for a refund. Annabeth’s superpower is to be svelte and bosomy—but also to fuck shit up, sometimes with a bow and arrow. And honestly, anybody can learn archery if they go to summer camp long enough. Demigod Rating: 4.5/10
But little is said of the rest of the Olympic pantheon and their chromosomally advantaged offspring, and my brain cannot tolerate this lacuna.
What superpower does a demigod begotten from Demeter have? The ability to grow crops from patented GMO seed? Are Apollo’s children all Instagays?
What about poor Hestia, Zeus’ sister and goddess of chastity and the hearth? By definition, she’s got no kiddos running around at Camp Half-Blood and let’s be real you probably forgot she existed ten minutes after your sixth-grade unit in Greek mythology ended. Pour one out for old Hestia.
And while we’re pouring, should we inquire if demigods sired by Dionysus have the magical power never to be hungover? Maybe we don’t want to know the answer.
Can a demigod born of Artemis still turn people into stags that get torn apart by their own hunting dogs? Because honestly that shit’s pretty intense. Dude was just going about his hunt and was probably very surprised to be greeted by some beautiful bazongas in the middle of the forest.
When Ares’ sons are battling Luke and Percy, are they really just working through their anger at Dad for cheating with his brother’s wife, Aphrodite? Do Hephaestus’ kids all grow up to have a cuckolding kink?
INQUIRING MINDS WANT TO KNOW.
Alas, we are never to know. Perhaps they just lead lives of quiet desperation like the rest of us.
But let’s review where we are at this point. Sally has been abducted by Hades and Percy, with gods and Furies eager to murder his ass and, against the Sage Wisdom of Pierce Brosnan as Chiron The White Stallion, is gonna go looking for her. That’s right. The premise of the movie is now: Boy Seeks Mother.
Hang on, you say. Where have I seen this story before?
Luke is only too happy, suspiciously eager you might even say, to help Percy. Armed with Luke’s shield, a pair of Flappy Shoes™, and a map to Hades, Percy, Grover, and Annabeth set out on a quest—yea verily, a Quest!—to collect Persephone’s pearls and rescue Sally from the clutches of the underworld. (Persephone’s pearls let all the man-hoes—or are they fuckbois?—she summons escape from the underworld.)
Act 2 is, honestly, pretty boring with the exception of Uma Thurman as Medusa and her coiffure of CGI snakes, which is much more interesting than Annabeth mansplaining mythology, which is a lot of what her character does in this movie.
Entr’acte: There is actual un-ironic Percy Jackson movie fandom? THE FUCK
After hightailing it out of a casino trap in Vegas, they finally get to the underworld via a secret door behind the Hollywood sign (seems random but OK I guess). Charon, who obviously studied Nietzsche and possibly did some meth in his time and now probably spends way too much time sharing existential memes on Facebook, ferries our heroes across—or is it down, don’t you row down the river?—the River Styx and leaves them at the entrance to Hades’ fortress.
Oh snap, the Lightning Bolt’s been hidden inside Percy’s—I mean Luke’s—shield this whole time! Hades don’t suffer no wool over his eyes, and prepares to send our heroes and Sally to Hell, menaced appropriately by the movie’s Generally Inaccurate depiction of Kerberos, the three-headed dog that guards the underworld.*
(*Come on, you didn’t think Harry Potter’s Fluffy was original, did you? What a dear.)
Persephone (Rosario Dawson), however, has other plans. She distracts Hades, grabs the bolt, and uses it to knock him sprawling and unconscious. And just like that, Percy rescues his mom, and together with Annabeth, they CRONCH those pearls like so much Jewish wedding and depart the underworld, leaving Grover in Persephone’s tender (and firm, but not too firm) grasp. Awwwwww Grover, he gave up his freedom for Percy, what a pal.
We’re back on top of the Empire State Building. WE GET IT ALREADY. Are you sure you wouldn’t rather be watching Sleepless in Seattle? It had all those adorable early ’90s graphics.
Oh, but Luke’s waiting for them. Except then he says that Percy wasn’t supposed to make it out of Hades alive. Sooooooo why you waiting around, my dude? For the views? Oh, shit, Luke’s the thief! He’s the bad guy!
Luke and Percy battle it out, flying around New York and fighting atop skyscrapers and brownstones, because that’s a thing that definitely has not happened in any other superhero movies. Percy uses his powers to bust open nearby water towers and disable Luke with a writhing ring of water.
With Luke on his way to the bottom of the Hudson, Percy flaps his way back to the Empire State Building where, it turns out, a hidden elevator with only two buttons is their ticket to Olympus. (Signs You Are Trapped in a Bad Horror Film #36: Elevators With Only Two Buttons.) Percy and Annabeth race out of the elevator where they have to ascend an INSANE number of steps in like FIFTY SECONDS. This has got to be the least believable part of this movie.
WE’RE JUST IN TIME, HOW ‘BOUT THAT
Oh hai, Melina Kanakaredes! The last thing I saw you in was Providence, that little-remembered early aughts show set in a small New England place that got totally overshadowed by Gilmore Girls, that other early aughts show set in a small New England place. You have like all of THREE lines in this movie, but you still got opening credits billing. Go you! Athena foreverrrrrrr.
(Percy throws the bolt back to Zeus, who looks like he just took a bong hit and is so pleasantly buzzed.)
OK every time somebody holds The Lightning Bolt it gets bigger like what kind of unsubtle erection metaphor is this.
War of the gods? Nah brah, we good.
Poseidon: Please, Percy. I only have a few minutes to apologize for a lifetime of absenteeism. I can’t see you again probably ever, but I’ll speak to you telepathically whenever I feel like it.
Percy: I didn’t need you there all the time. But also, I would like to complain about not having had a father to play ball with and teach me how to manipulate water supernaturally and shit.
Poseidon is that slightly older friend you never see but who always wants to give you milquetoast life advice.
Manly handshake! The ultimate resolution to any moment of Awkward Masculinity.
And with that, we’re back to Camp Half-Blood, performing poorly choreographed fight scenes as we turn the page, readying ourselves for the Inevitable Sequel. (It happened three years later.)
In the end, not even the Inadvertent Homoerotic Subtext Theory of Percy and Grover can save this train wreck of a movie. All of the Major Actors are squandered in minuscule roles. The writing is so bad as almost to be self-aware of its own badness. The score is unimaginative, to say the least. I’m told both the book and the Broadway musical are better.
Honestly though, if I want mythological fanfic with not Inadvertent Homoerotic Subtext but indeed Very Advertent Homosexual Text, I’ll just go read Song of Achilles. It is delightful, and also lightly trashy—you can tell this because very conspicuously absent from the List of Glowing Reviews from Major Journalism Organizations in the New York Times Book Review—and no, I will not apologize.
— Max DeCurtins