Since I’m apparently incapable of talking about anything else, today I want to share something very close and personal with you, and the desecration thereof—the Percy Jackson series and its adaptation that didn’t even try for like a second.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a pentalogy published during the mid-2000s that could have been a gigantic booming franchise like Harry Potter is now, but never really took off. The premise and structure are similar-ish: magical powers come from Greek deity ancestry, kids go to summer camp instead of boarding school, and there, they sorted into cabins instead of houses based on their godly parent instead of character traits. And then there’s also a prophecy about saving the world.
Honestly, the series is from the get-go one of the most marketable things ever. It has an easily accessible protagonist and the core mythology is pretty familiar to the average Western audience since we, as a cultural collective, have had an intellectual boner for Greco-Roman mythology for like 300 years in a row now. The books are actually a clever twist on cause and effect of that particular cultural phenomenon, as the Greek gods are said to travel with the centers of western civilization, which in recent years has led them to the US, and is evident in the fact that we just can’t get over ancient Greek mythology; for instance, the architectural style is still found everywhere.
That always made sense to me as a kid, though now I roll my eyes at the US-centrism and American Exceptionalism this viewpoint is based on. Then again, the first book wasn’t written to be an international bestseller, it was written for Rick Riordan’s son and the kids he taught over the years, who all just happened to live in the US, so there you go.
Rick Riordan, by the way, is also something like an anti-Rowling in that everything he has done after the main series was over actually improved upon the source material. There is one completed follow-up series called Heroes of Olympus, and another one, Trials of Apollo, that has only just started.
Heroes of Olympus changes the formula from centering around one straight white male protagonist from whose point of view the entire series is written, to making it a narrative shared between 9 kids, only three of which are white, and one of whom is very explicitly not straight. Their ethnically diverse backgrounds always feature into their personalities, but are very far from their only defining attributes. It’s a truly great sequel series and I could gush about it for years on end. Trials of Apollo apparently features a multitude of LGBT+ characters in addition to the ethnic diversity the previous series brought, and apparently that caused such an uproar that his official site’s FAQ now features this quote:
“I’ve been lucky enough to teach all sorts of students — fifth grade to twelfth grade, rich and poor, from numerous ethnic backgrounds, with diverse religious traditions and a variety of learning differences. I’ve also taught gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. Some self-identified as early as elementary school. Some came to terms with their sexual orientation later in high school. Most had a hard time during the middle grades, which are tough years for any child. All my middle school students enriched my classroom. They made me a better teacher and a better writer for children, and they all deserve my support.
I am committed to writing appropriate books for the middle grades. This means no bad language, no gratuitous or explicit violence, and no sexual content beyond what you might find in a PG-rated movie — expressions of who likes whom, holding hands, and perhaps the occasional kiss. The idea that we should treat sexual orientation itself as an adults-only topic, however, is absurd. Non-heterosexual children exist. To pretend they do not, to fail to recognize that they have needs for support and validation like any child, would be bad teaching, bad writing, and bad citizenship.”
So yeah. I am a great supporter of him and his work. Even if it starts out with a series centered around a straight, white, male protagonist. It’s still a really good one, and the series are light-hearted, charming, and weird.
What I’m trying to say is, this series would have deserved to become a great hit and a giant franchise and get a decent movie adaptation, and yet, what it got was one of the most half-assed attempt of an adaptation I have ever seen.
Now, here at the Fandomentals, we talk about adaptations a lot. What makes them successful, what makes them fail, what the fundamental principles of adaptations are, and how all bad adaptations are essentially the same.
This one is a little special, though. It does feature every single element Julia has ascribed to bad adapations, but it also tries very, very hard to cut off any chance of a sequel—years later, it got one anyway.
Fair warning: I want you all to read these books. From here on out, I will also discuss these in detail. (especially the first one in the series, but lots of later elements as well), so there will be spoilers everywhere. Not enough to take the kick out of the entire series, but my interpretation of spoilers has always been a little more generous than most people’s, so I figured I’d warn you all about it anyway.
But let’s, ha ha, get down to business already.
The movie adaptation of the first book in the Percy Jackson series, The Lightning Thief, came out in 2010, and I saw it in theaters exactly 7 years ago to the day. For that matter, I finished my first ever authentic novel in the English language, The Titan’s Curse (third in the series) pretty much exactly 10 years ago. I know, I know, Harry Potter is a more traditional choice for a first book read in the English language, and I tried. Boy, did I ever try. But JK Rowling’s language is not beginner-friendly. The language used in the Percy Jackson series is very beginner friendly, for reasons I am about to get into soon.
Now, this movie looks pretty great most of the time. There are visual aspects that are confusing and suck, and others that make me so angry because it reminds me of the wasted potential. To add insult to injury, the movie was directed by Chris Columbus. You know, the guy who made the first two Harry Potter movies, the ones that actually stuck to the book almost obsessively and adapted the plot as well. I had very, very high hopes because of this. And yet…
We start the movie off with breaking one of the core rules of the franchise pretty much immediately: a distraught fisherman sees a giant Poseidon step out of a river. The books are full of danger and aspects of Greek mythology hiding in plain sight in the modern world, and the way this works is due to the “mist” which clouds most mortal’s (that’s the term for muggles here) vision of these things. Except for a select few that can see through the mist, of course, meaning this particular fisherman may or may not have been blessed with clear sight and is destined to be the next oracle.
…If anything going beyond the most basic summary of the first book would matter here at all.
Poseidon is on his way to the lookout on top of the Empire State Building. It is implied he got there on foot by riding the elevator like any normal person would. Which was apparently possible in the middle of the night, and yet there are no tourists to be seen anywhere. He’s there to meet his brother Zeus, who has beef with him. Beef in the form of awkward exposition.
Zeus, by the way, is played by Sean Bean. And he survives the movie. There’s apparently a rule saying you can tell a movie is going to suck if Sean Bean survives until the end, and this movie proves it right. Also in this movie: Uma Thurman, Pierce Brosnan, Rosario Dawson. High-profile actors who should all be too good for this, and make you long to watch better movies instead.
I for one was temporarily overcome with the need to watch Kill Bill, for example, just to deal with the violent urges this movie awakens in me.
We’re not there yet, we’re in awkward exposition-ville. So. Zeus knows Poseidon has a son, and accuses this son of stealing his master bolt. A Lightning Bolt that allegedly has more power than a nuclear bomb. Keep that in mind. He gives Poseidon the ultimatum: to have his son return this bolt until the summer solstice, keep that also in mind, or there will be WAR.
This is basically the plot for the entire movie. It is dumbed down from the books, which featured about two conspiracy theories thrown into the mix there, and which never had two godly brothers just meeting UNDER the seat of the gods (Mount Olympus, home of the gods, is metaphysically above the Empire State Building) instead of in their council chamber. Here, Zeus has absolutely no reason to suspect Poseidon’s son in this, or none that the movie establishes anyhow, and yet we need the entire plot summarized in the first three minutes
Did someone think the audience would fall asleep after that and miss important plot details? We can only assume.
We then cut over to a barely legal and half naked Logan Lerman at the bottom of a swimming pool. That boy has abs that make me feel incredibly uncomfortable looking at him, even though he’s technically a year older than me.
Real talk: Logan Lerman would have made an amazing Percy Jackson, at least for the first series. He has the looks, and his acting isn’t half-bad either. Unfortunately, his experiences on the Harry Potter set made Chris Columbus swear off working with children that young ever again.
Percy in the books starts out being 12-years-old and in middle school. 12 is usually the age during which half-god children come into their powers and start attracting monsters. This Percy here apparently has always known that he can casually hold his breath and hang out underwater for seven minutes—a talent he himself never found weird, and that no one ever discovered. Uhuh. Sure.
He is encouraged in this and cheered on by Grover, his black best friend. Now, this is a bit more complicated. Grover’s ethnicity isn’t mentioned in the books, I checked, but he has hair curly enough to hide his tiny satyr horns, so sure. Good on the movie for casting an actor of color here…is what I would say if not for certain developments towards the end.
Grover is a satyr sent to watch over Percy, and yet he encourages him in putting his demigod powers, that Percy isn’t supposed to know about yet, on display like this. Yeeaaah. Amazing.
We get a brief view of Grover and Percy at their school. In the books, it’s supposed to be a boarding school for troubled kids, but here it’s just a regular high school (without the musical. Grover is also here to make dated references) where people randomly get into fights in the hallways, though not with Grover or Percy themselves.
See, a defining aspect of Percy’s and Grover’s friendship in the books, and of Percy’s entire character, is that he protects Grover from bullies and has zero tolerance for them. He and Grover also happen to be the uncool kids who end up being bullied a lot, something you can see happening to awkward and scrawny 12-year-olds, but not to angel-faced Logan Lerman with chiseled abs. And the movie just omits that part entirely. I am aware that cutting parts is better than changing them, and that the incessant bullying of this cool and self-assured Grover and seriously attractive Percy would have rang false to an extent, but Percy standing up for people and against bullies is such an integral part of his early character that it makes me angry regardless.
The biggest failure of the movie however comes in the form of Percy’s home life. We see him go home to a rather nice house in the middle of New York City where rent would cost a fortune. We get no info on his mom Sally, who is supposed to be overworked and yet home during afternoons.
First fatal flaw of this scene: Establishing Percy’s learning disabilities, dyslexia and ADHD, via dialogue instead of showing them. I mean, credit to Logan Lerman some more: he is exceptionally fidgety in a lot of scenes, but still, the way they address these things is… Well.
These books were written for Rick Riordan’s son, who also has both conditions, so that he would have a hero to look up to who is just like him. In a way, Riordan was always preoccupied with providing representation for the children in his audience. This is also the reason why especially the first books are written in a very simple and easy to understand way, short sentences, easy words. Well, and because they’re written from the first person point of view of a 12-year-old, and those aren’t known for thinking all of the deep and complicated thoughts.
In the movie, the ADHD part is mentioned twice, and otherwise admittedly shown by Logan Lerman (and only Logan Lerman, despite every demigod suffering from it) fidgeting a lot in certain scenes. The dyslexia part is… More problematic.
Riordan describe dyslexia as letters switching places in front of Percy’s eyes or moving around the page, something a friend of mine has more or less confirmed happening to her as well, though her form of dyslexia is a very mild one. The movie, on the other hand, has Percy’s vision fog over when he tries to read the blackboard. That’s also a condition plenty of school kids can relate to, but it’s more symptomatic of needing glasses than dyslexia. Also, this happens exactly once in the movie. When it gets to reading neon signs and maps later on, Percy is totally fine. Yay.
Second fatal flaw of this scene: Gabe. Gabe is supposed to be an abuser, both of Sally and Percy, extorting a 12-year-old for money and terrorizing them. Sally, whose name I think is never mentioned in this movie, only stays with him because his mortal stink covers up Percy’s demigod smell, protecting him form monsters, which is only a marginally better excuse than “your mother’s blood flows in their veins and protects you,” and it’s both made better and somehow flimsier by the fact that book!Sally actually keeps Percy away from Gabe more often than not by sending him to boarding schools.
Anyhow, in this, Gabe comes in, demands Sally gets him a beer even though he’s closer to the fridge, and smacks her on the ass. Sally treats him more like a rude house guest, and not like he’s her regular abuser. Percy doesn’t flinch away from him, and actually asserts himself to Gabe’s face, because he will not have his mother sexualized in the kitchen. No, really, basically verbatim quote.
Like, book!Sally and Percy are severely affected by their abusers; Gabe is an integral part of why Percy’s sense of self-worth is severely damaged for the first few books, along with all the other bullies in his life and his disabilities. In the movie, Gabe is a minor inconvenience that doesn’t affect anyone after his two scenes.
Ugh. We move on to more exposition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art where we’re more formally reintroduced to the concept of the Greek gods having children with mortals. Percy’s class is on a field trip there, and he has headphones on for the plot-relevant lecture, which no one calls him out on.
Also, Poseidon briefly stalks his son from across the street and then subtly vanishes in broad daylight.
The substitute teacher drags him aside in the middle of the lecture to attack him. She’s a fury, and in this movie, that’s foreshadowed by her asking about a line from Othello with the word fury in it. In the books, she’s a math teacher because those are the most sadistic once, as written by an English teacher.
I’m not even going to question going to restricted sections of the MMoA while the entire class is right next door to attack someone without anyone coming upon the scene accidentally. What I will question is the other teacher, Mr. Brunner, following them without the rest of the class he was busy lecturing two minutes before this. Well, besides Grover.
The fury wants Percy to give her the lightning bolt so she can take it to Hades. Logan Lerman makes very convincing confused faces and freaks out as is appropriate when your teacher and best friend start talking cryptic shit and don’t bother explaining anything to you.
Side note: The fight with the fury is one of the many instances where the movie cut action sequences and shining moments for characters. Before rewatching, I thought they only did that for the one female character, but no. Percy is downgraded a lot as well. In the books, he gets his sword here temporarily, and manages to defeat the fury by himself. Not so in the movie, where she gently descends to drop him from a height that doesn’t injure him to badly and then fucks off through the window.
This fury attack means now it’s time to get the plot going, so Grover gabs Percy and they run to his home to inform Sally of what went down… Or not, I guess, it’s never quite clear. They storm in, Grover demands Sally and Percy leave immediately, and when Gabe objects, Grover knocks him out. In full sight of Gabe’s poker buddies, who just let them leave.
In the car, Sally and Percy start a conversation about his father while the sun is setting in New York City, and only resume it again in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere. It is one of the laziest cuts I have ever seen, and we also don’t get to learn anything new. In the books at least, Sally took Percy on a vacation to the beach where she met his father, we learn something about her backstory and why she fell for his dad, and stuff like that. Here it’s…vague gushing. Really helpful.
They then get attacked by a minotaur. Who first topples their car, and is then suddenly far away on a hill. The ensuing fight sequence is stupid, pointless, and features a sexist edit: In the books, Percy’s mom explains to him how to fight the minotaur. Here, he just kinda figures it out himself, as his mom is evaporated, directly at the gate to camp, before she can say anything at all.
Two dumb things: With the mom evaporated just before the camp gates, why do they fight the minotaur at all? In the books, Percy is half a mile away from the camp when the showdown happens and he fights to save himself and his mom. Here, he just charges out there to avenge his mom even though the magical gate is right there.
Second: instead of going for his sword, the actual weapon, Percy goes for the horn stuck in the tree, almost getting skewered himself. Now, the narrative for some reason rewards him for this, but this is just dumb. And there was also no indication that the horn was going to work better than the sword, which is also right there and not stuck in a tree.
Despite not really getting injured in comparison to the fury fight, Percy falls unconscious. And regains consciousness in the middle of camp in the sick ward.
This is where things get hairy. We’re sort of introduced to the camp, but… Not really. It all seems rushed and a little… Undignified. And inconsiderate.
Grover and his amazing guns nursed Percy back to health, and then Grover is the one to give Percy a very, very brief tour of the camp, which is pretty shabby and proof that someone took the word “camp” too literally. No adult talks to Percy about what just happened to his mother or what the fuck is even going on. Like, in the books, the camp supervisors explain the thing about Greek gods and the heart of western civilization to him. This is never mentioned in the movie; the US is just suddenly Greece now, deal with it. Your mom is super dead, deal with it. We train here to kill people, deal with it. Let us just drop you into a deadly game of capture the flag that we don’t even tell you is capture the flag, deal with it.
It seems like a camp of inconsiderate jerkasses.
The camp is visually wrong, too. First of all, it’s in the woods, no open spaces, no strawberry fields, no mountain climbing areas, nothing. Just trees, a river, a lake, and shabby wooden shacks that look like they’re put together and taken apart every summer, despite the fact that “Annabeth” (insert angry growling noise here) actually mentions later on that she stays there all year. I mean, from what I know, summers in New York state aren’t exactly always warm enough to spend them in flimsy shelter with no walls, and winters are going to be rough.
They also omitted the part where there are cabins for each god. Percy get awarded his own little shack on the river far away from everyone else with lots of sailing paraphernalia in it, which his father apparently had built special for him. Yeah, shut up.
The cabins in the books are described like actual little dorms, built to appease the gods whose kids are housing in there, with a general sense of grandeur that Greek architecture just, you know, has. They have an amphitheater, too. The gods in general, by virtue of being, you know, gods, are implied to be just too fucking vain to tolerate their offspring housing in fucking stick houses in the woods.
Like, goddesses like Hera and Artemis get cabins to appease them, because they would be mad otherwise, and the cabins for Zeus and Poseidon are still standing, even though they were banned from having children for plot reasons I’ll get into later.
Oh, and like, the pine tree signifying camp boundaries and Annabeth, Luke, and Grover’s shared backstory is missing, too. Or maybe it’s there, but you just can’t see it, because we’re not on halfblood hill, but in the middle of the fucking woods. And don’t try to explain this away with budgetary constraints. They got Olympus and Hades right at the end of the movie, the place not the person, CGI-ing in the more grandiose parts of camp shouldn’t have been an issue.
Okay. Moving on.
After an encounter I will tear into in just a bit, Percy meets Chiron, formerly known as Mr. Brunner, apparently the only adult at camp, and gets a bit of a talk where he learns that everyone already knows he’s a son of Poseidon. The only son, for reasons the movie never bothers to explain. Poseidon got around a lot, y’all. Almost as much as Zeus, who has no kids in this movie, and no past kids are even mentioned.
This is all wrong.
Then Percy is thrust right into a game of capture the flag, though at first it just looks like everyone randomly deciding to kill each other. We’re introduced to Luke, who is creepy from the get-go, and not the trustworthy cool guy who nobody would suspect of pulling a coup, and are also treated frantic running through the woods with the occasional badly choreographed fight scene. Percy then stumbles upon the other team’s flag, only to be jumped on by the very same girl he had been creepily staring at while she did bad stage fighting a few minutes ago.
This is supposed to be Annabeth Chase, our “female lead” for the evening. She just drops in right then and there, and says this:
“My mother is goddess of wisdom and battle strategy. You know what that means?”
Yes, what does it mean? Is it
a) “I should know better than to monologue at my enemies.”
b) “I should know better than to take off my helmet in front of an enemy during a combat situation”
or is it
c) “I should know better than to wear boob plate” ?
NONE OF THE ABOVE! It apparently means she always has a plan. The plan being beating the shit out of a new guy with absolutely no training. And I mean it, she just tears into him—the books had a loosely enforced “no maiming” rule for this, and that a completely different character broke this for Percy was kind of a big deal. But no, over the course of this beat down, THE ENTIRE CAMP joins them, both teams, NO ONE TRIES TO CAPTURE THE FLAG, and everyone is just extremely entertained by this new kid being beaten up.
What the fuck are you people? Braavosi citizens?
Anyway, at one point, Percy remembers how water has always been his favorite thing, and he goes into the convenient river. His wounds close, and after he steps back out of it, he is suddenly the most amazing sword man ever and manages to beat her effortlessly, and then THEY JUST LET HIM GO AND CLAIM THE FLAG.
Okay. Okay. Breathe. I need to breathe. Okay.
Annabeth Chase, as portrayed in the books, is me. Well, she is 12-year-old me, a bit obsessed with being right, smarter than everyone else, and perpetually annoyed by less competent people, but never really malicious about it, either. It’s complicated, like 12-year-old girls are.
Her introduction in the books happens when she is the one nursing Percy back to health, not because she’s a healer or any good at it, but to press him for information. See, she has been told she won’t be allowed to leave the camp until a halfblood fathered by one of the big three makes it there, the big three being Zeus, Poseidon, and Hades. And she also wants to find out whether Percy knows what’s going on with the gods in the main plot.
She then is the one who gives Percy the tour, which is somewhat more appropriate since she’s an actual camper (satyrs reside in the woods AROUND the camp and are implied to be very low on the pecking order) and has been there for five years, making her the longest resident with Luke because shared backstory.
During this tour, they encounter the other female character they for some reason combined Annabeth with, even though they then had to cast her for her integral role in the sequel: Clarisse.
See, Annabeth, if the quote above hasn’t tipped you off, is a daughter of Athena, goddess of war, wisdom, and battle strategy. Clarisse is a daughter or Ares, god of plain old warfare and combat and stuff.
Clarisse is like every bully Percy has ever faced, and her first course of action is to try and flush his head down the toilet. Percy ends up making the bathroom explode at her because water powers that neither he nor ANYONE ELSE knew about at this point, because the whole god parents business is messy and most halfbloods are unacknowledged by their godly parent their entire lives. Anyhow, Clarisse is publicly humiliated and swears revenge, Annabeth is watching all of this and then tells Percy she wants him in her team for capture the flag because she is, you know, supposed to be smart.
Capture the flag, by the way, is a lot more traditionally played, and a competition between the Ares and Athena cabins, who then bargain for the assistance of the other cabins with shower privileges and other camp stuff. All of the unclaimed campers go to the completely overfilled Hermes cabin, by the way, which we will get into later.
That’s also where Percy’s at for his first week at camp, and where he actually gets to know people and bonds with them for a while.
So unlike the horrible brute we’re presented with in this movie, book!Annabeth has a plan for capture the flag: she puts Percy on border duty at the river where he will draw out Clarisse and her siblings who want revenge. Percy is ganged up on and only manages to defeat them because of his river powers, which he only has WHILE IN THE RIVER and not after getting out of it.
Annabeth is the first to figure this out, hence why she put him there in the first place, and to utilize his self-healing abilities that way.
Because she’s smart and competent.
Combining her character with Clarisse, whose purpose is to bully Percy, is doubly problematic for the simple fact that the movie speeds up the romantic angle, like, a lot. Like, they turn a 5 years/books long slow burn featuring all the awkwardness of growing up between ages 12 and 16 and lots of adorableness into, “hey I just tried to publicly humiliate you, let’s almost make out three times over the course of a week, that’s hot, right?”
Also, Annabeth in the books is blond. I know, I know, the nitpickiest of the nitpicks ever, and they even changed THAT for the sequel, but… It’s rare to find smart blond girls in children’s media, okay? It meant a lot to me at the time.
Yes, I’m going on about blond women again, I’m sorry.
The actual main plot quest “let’s fucking go” arrives for dinner. Hades shows up in the camp fire, insisting Percy give him the master bolt in exchange for his mom, who is not dead, just abducted. So far, the plan had been for Percy to go to Zeus and just say hey uncle, I don’t have no lightning bolt, can everything be cool again, please?
And… That remains the plan, just that Percy now goes to visit a different uncle. By sneaking out of camp by spending less than a day there, getting no training, and not being stopped by anyone because there are no authorities. No, really, the only people who figure out Percy might bail after that encounter are Grover and that random chick who tried to dismember him in front of everyone earlier. Not!Annabeth says she wants to tag along because she always wanted a quest and this might be her only way out of there.
Sweetheart. This is not a quest so far. Those usually include a clear objective, are official, and have a certain degree of ceremony to them. Like, being sent off with supplies by the counselor and receiving a prophecy, as in the books, where there is a clear objective.
Well, okay, admittedly, the objective is get to the underworld, try to steal the master bolt BACK from Hades before he can use it against Zeus, and make it back to Olympus before the summer solstice. The authorities here figure that Hades had someone steal the master bolt and is now trying to cause war between the gods so people die and he has more subject in his kingdom. Zeus is convinced Poseidon took it, because Percy happened to live in New York, where Olympus is located, and Poseidon hid him all these years just to claim him now, which is a thing that happens rarely. And also, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades were forbidden from having any more children after their offspring caused the world wars.
It’s basically a messy family fight where everyone accuses everyone at random, no one is right, and everything could kind of make sense, but everyone is too emotional to sort it out right now. You know. Greek gods. Anyhow, that’s at least somewhat of a proper quest. That Percy is officially sent on because that’s how Greek mythology works.
Here, the three stooges just decide to ditch, and then stand around wondering where the underworld actually is.
Like, guys. In the west. That’s the way it has always been. The fact that it is in Hollywood is more than just a cute little gag, it actually makes sense, okay? But even the smart character who knows all about Greek mythology has no clue. So they go ask Luke instead.
Luke somehow has multiple flat screens installed in his stick shack, on which he plays Call of Duty because all “unstable” teens play violent video games. I wonder where he got the electricity and the wifi to do that.
Anyhow, he’s shady some more, gives Percy flying shoes he stole from his dad, and gives them a map that will lead them to…places where Persephone stored escape pod pearls for her various lovers.
Okay. Okay. I know this gets more fucked up later on, but hold your fucking horses here for a minute. Or hippocampi. Actually, those. We need to stay on brand here.
My personal interpretation of Persephone is more that of an ancient times Beauty and the Beast kind of deal, so that she’s not entirely unhappy, and also, Greek mythology has a maaaaaajor Madonna/whore complex. While she’s not one of the chastity goddesses, Persephone kinda doesn’t fall in the dedicated adulteress part of that spectrum, and I don’t get why she would here. Did they look at spring and fertility and went yeah, sure let’s have her be fertile all over the place? Why are there no children of hers mentioned, then? She by the way also doesn’t have any in the books, because she’s not that kind of goddess. For reasons, dammit.
And here the movie also drops all pretenses of being related to the book. There, Percy, Grover, and Annabeth travel west best they can, encounter various monsters along the way, and barely make it in time. They bond along the way and it’s cute and a fun ride and would have been cinematic enough for this movie. You could have cut the side adventures out for more traveling, fine, but… I don’t see why you would.
Instead, this movie opts to make the entire thing even more video game-y by giving them a fetch quest. For pearls hidden in random and very inconvenient locations.
The first stop, Medusa’s garden gnome imperium, is actually in the books, but there they just kinda stumbled upon her shop after furies blew up the bus they were taking. Where did they get the money for the bus from in the movie anyhow? Annabeth has no need for money at camp. Did Percy have a giant allowance? Do satyrs get credit cards? And they’re still all underaged. The book constantly has them worry about money, transportation, and not looking too suspicious as three 12-year-olds traveling the land.
The Medusa sequence is a bit drawn out, and only notable because Medusa complains about being ugly now, despite being Uma Thurman and still looking really hot, Annabeth gets captured due to a random visitor who wasn’t present in the books and needs to be saved by Percy, Grover gets to figure out they’re in Medusa’s lair instead of Annabeth, Annabeth gets to knock Medusa over instead of Grover, and Medusa somehow has the ability to sense demigods, and yet is surprised by Percy’s presence twice. Also he gets to behead her from behind even though she both saw and sensed him.
This movie somehow manages to infantilize everyone, despite making them older.
Side note: Medusa randomly carried around the pearl for Persephone’s lovers on her person, so…are she and Persephone getting freaky together?
Annabeth, by the way, drives a truck into the shop. How she’d learn how to drive at camp I have no fucking clue, but here we go. Convenient, if stolen, method of transportation. And then these 16-year-olds somehow manage to check in at a motel. I guess one of them does have a credit card we’re never informed about.
The motel sequence is weird: Percy sits at the bottom of the pool some more, somehow figures out his powers are just like waterbending in that they can also heal other people (not a thing in the books. Poseidon was more the god of fucking shit up than healing people. His children just regenerate in the sea), awkward flirting ensues but is interrupted when Grover calls them to watch Gabe giving an interview on national television. He accuses Percy of stealing his car and abducting Sally. Sally Ugliano. When there’s an entire paragraph in the book devoted to how Sally never changed her maiden name, hence why Percy is called “Percy Jackson.” But fuck you all, too.
Then the cleaning staff sees Medusa’s severed head they’re carrying around with them, and they have to leave before even spending the night, but also get to check out despite that.
The Parthenon sequence is also weird. The pearl is stored in a tiara Athena wears, for Persephone’s elusive giant lovers? Whatever. Nothing of this is in the books. Annabeth uses a bow and arrow despite not being associated with Artemis in any way and never doing that in the books. A hydra randomly manifests for reasons that are never explored. Grover gets to save the day because Medusa’s head swallows fire or something and the petrification powers work when looking at her through fire.
Did I mention all of this is made up and none of it happens in the books?
Their next stop does happen in the books. It’s at the Lotus Casino, which is where this movie gets visually stunning and makes me even more mad, because it can get things right if it tries. The only thing bothering me here is that they still take away triumphs from the heroes, Percy in this case, and have him escape by divine intervention.
That’s another thing not present in the books for a good reason. In the movies, Annabeth and Percy hear their parents in their heads all the time, so selling the angle that the gods just don’t care about their children becomes really fucking hard. But who cares about setting up plot threads for future movies, anyhow?
So they steal another car in the Lotus Casino to escape and make it to the Hollywood sign, which is the literal entrance to the underworld. Charon is a lot more fun in the books, and we miss out on Annabeth doggy training Cerberus, but okay, we have a movie to get through here, so they just find Hades in his… Living room? Where he is casually chilling with Persephone.
Need I remind you that the deadline was the summer solstice? This… is the most basic you can get with Greek mythology. Persephone spends the time between the summer and the winter solstice in the underworld, which is when her mom makes plants stop growing. She returns to Olympus at the winter solstice and stays until the summer solstice, so her mom’s happy and nature happens. That’s one of the first stories you ever hear as an example for how people came up with religion to explain how the world works. It’s also one of the most PG Greek myths you can tell children if you gloss over the whole kidnapping ordeal.
And it’s not the solstice yet. When they bamf out of the underworld and to Olympus, it’s close to midnight in New York, meaning by California time, Persephone would still have hours away from that husband and underworld she claims to hate.
And yet. She is here. She even refers to having allotted time away from Hades. And yet.
HOW DO YOU GET SHIT THIS WRONG?!
Ignore the books because you think you can fix the source material to be more cinematic? Fine. But get this one most basic and simple thing about the mythology wrong that we in the western hemisphere have been force-fed for centuries? HOW? WHY?!
Oh. Oh I know why. Because they felt like they needed to fix the ending.
Okay, so Luke smuggled the masterbolt in that shield he gave Percy to dangle the carrot in front of Hades, who is also totally willing to go to war by the way. Book!Hades has also been stolen from and he complains about how more dead people mean more work for him and more maintenance costs and shit. It’s kind of funny, and Hades was never supposed to be “evil” anyhow. But here he is because it’s easier. He also goes back on the deal he made with Percy, which is something even the fucking Disney version got right about Hades. And if Disney’s Hercules manages to be more true to Greek mythology than your movie, YOU HAVE A FUCKING PROBLEM.
(In Disney’s Hercules, Persephone also didn’t randomly hang out in the underworld during summer, just saying.)
Persephone then double-crosses Hades and hits him with the do not use stronger than an H-bomb lightning bolt. That this doesn’t kill him, I understand. Gods are immortal. Why she claims it would erase his memory, I have no clue.
Percy now has to make the Sophie’s choice of leaving someone behind in the Underworld because he only has three pearls, but four people who need to leave. Persephone can’t just make more or something, or give them like an Orpheus deal, or just tell the doorman to let them out? Isn’t she the queen here? Anyone?
In the books, Percy gets these pearls from a Nereid in service to his dad. He also got an official prophecy from the oracle at the camp to tell him one of his friends would betray him, something he anguishes about for the entire journey. So when all hell is literally breaking loose since someone else (Ares, because shit in the book is complicated) made him smuggle the masterbolt into the underworld, Percy is faced with an actual Sophie’s choice, since they need to get out of there ASAP. Grover and Annabeth start fighting over who stays behind, and Percy is overwhelmed by this and figures his mom would never forgive him for leaving her behind anyway. So he chooses his friends and opts to find another way to get his mom back.
It’s, like, a theme or something, and emotionally resonant after watching them grow together as a team for 200 pages while anticipating a sudden but inevitable betrayal. But sure. Fuck that.
Actually, appropriate choice of words here. Grover stays behind, as a, ah, cherished guest of Persephone’s. So the only black character with actual lines in the movie gets hooked up with the only Latina character with lines in the movie, who is also a hypersexualized dedicated adultress. And technically a pedophile now.
Like, from the books, I know that satyrs age differently from humans, and Grover is a bit older than Percy and Annabeth anyway, which means he’d be maybe 18 here or something. But what’s barely being above the age of consent in relation to an immortal goddess who has been around for more than three millennia? Squicky, that’s what. But don’t think about it too hard, it’s supposed to be funny! Even though Grover actually looks uncomfortable. Yikes.
The pearls teleport them away to the Empire State Building, where it’s almost midnight, and Luke shows up with another convenient pair of flying shoes to challenge Percy to the fight scene that blew the budget or something, hence why they had to live in stick huts in the woods instead of nice and pompous cabins.
So, surprising no one given his portrayal in the movie, Luke is the actual villain! He’s the lightning thief! And why would he want a war between the gods? Just… For the lulz, apparently. Or because he’s a megalomaniac who wants to install a new world order after the gods wiped each other out…on his own.
I mean, of course a guy maybe in his late teens or early twenties would plan all of this, mess with immortal and sort of omniscient forces all on his own, and just for his own personal gain, right? What, was his turn to the dark side supposed to be a result of manipulations from a greater force of evil that preyed upon his frustration with the gods, his father, the camp system, and special circumstances from his backstory? All of which might be justified because the gods actually are a bit lackluster when it comes to taking care of their children, or even claiming them as their own, creating a large amount of halfbloods harboring understandable resentments?
Nah, that might be complex or something, and plant the seeds for a sequel! Who would want that?
So the next badly choreographed fight goes down, in the middle of the air. Percy losing that fight, by the way, leads Luke to taunt him how he might not be a son of Poseidon after all, and you know, I get his point. Given the rivalry between Zeus and Poseidon, a son of Poseidon taking to the air like that, to Zeus’s domain, probably would have angered Zeus enough to blast him out of the sky or something. But hey, that’s just funny world building details from the books, in which Percy never even worse the shoes given to him by Luke for that exact reason.
The shoes were also enchanted to literally drag him into the main, overarching plot, by the way. Can’t have that.
This taunting, of course, only reminds Percy that he has waterbending abilities, so he makes all the water tanks at the top of the skyscrapers explode and crash down over Luke, how is somehow not electrocuted to death by the fucking masterbolt he is holding. Which the boys have been using throughout the fight to shoot at each other. Percy’s sword, which couldn’t even harm a minotaur in the beginning of this, even manages to reflect this stronger than an H-bomb super weapon.
Masterbolt secured, Percy and Annabeth make it up to Olympus, where the technically mostly omniscient gods somehow missed the super weapon being fired off right under their home turf and are arguing with each other. Seconds before they anticipate the beginning of a war. You’d think that after a few millennia on the job and a few wars fought with titans and giants and what have you, they’d have learned to maybe fortify and prepare when they know war might be coming, but hey. That’s just something a war god or goddess would think of, and it’s not like we have one or two of those around.
Percy returns the bolt, no one believes him he didn’t steal it, but there’s a dramatic reaction shot of Hermes when he says Luke did it. Percy then requests Grover gets a divine lift from Zeus to escape his implied rapist, and then gets to have a two minute talk with his dad.
During this we learn that Poseidon is very sorry he was never around during Percy’s childhood, but Zeus decreed it, because after three literal millennia of hooking up with humans and having children with them, sticking around Percy and his mom somehow started to turn Poseidon human, and Zeus wouldn’t have that. Now gods are forbidden from interacting with their children, but only have been for 16 years or something.
What. The. Fuck.
You guys fell in love with humans all the fucking time! Why has this never been an issue before? And regardless, if Poseidon was ready to turn human to stay with his son and newest lover, and we know from the existence of Dionysus that godhood, even the kind that lets you sit on the Olympian council, can be bestowed, why not just let him? Zeus and Poseidon are rivals, that’s what half this movie hinges upon! Let him become human, and assign the godhood over the sea to someone loyal to you! Oh if only there was some tactical minded deity around with a healthy dislike for Poseidon we heard stories about who might have come up with such a ploy…
Anyhow. All is well after that. Sally rids herself of Gabe, and Percy happily returns to the stick hut in the woods where he belongs—his real home after staying there for less than a day. He is now a good enough sword fighter to be evenly matched with Annabeth even without stepping into a river first, but not without almost making out with her first, and all is well or something.
I just… I don’t get it. Did Columbus not WANT a large scale project for five movies? Why the constant efforts to get rid of anything hinting at a larger narrative? Even the backstory for Annabeth, Grover, and Luke was deleted! Chronos, the true villain in the books and mastermind behind Luke’s plan, who also manipulated Ares into assisting him to set up the plot for the next book, just doesn’t exist. Luke somehow manages to steal the lightning bolt without any help, is in possession of the map leading you to Persephone’s escape pods and into the underworld, yet doesn’t bother to go there himself to see that things get done.
There is literally nowhere to go from here.
They killed the plot, they killed the characters, they killed any arc or development, they killed the themes… And left this soulless husk of an occasionally pretty looking movie with actors way too qualified to be seen in this.
And despite this solid effort to nip the easiest to establish franchise ever in the bud, the movie eventually did get a sequel. And after only seeing the cinema sins video on it, I get the impression they somehow retconned all the continuity bits back in for that one, yet no third movie is in the works.
This mess sounds almost intriguing. Hey, maybe if my liver can handle it, I’ll look at that someday.
PS: If you’re interested in my unfiltered live-watching notes, you can find them right here. Lots of shit that didn’t make it into this review is there in neat bullet point form. Yes, there was that much to complain about.