The world is hard enough when you’re 12 years old. Your body is changing, hormones are raging, and you’re swiftly approaching the age where adults stop looking at you as a little kid and start seeing you as someone scarier, more threatening, and less trustworthy. But in the case of the titular character in Percy Jackson and the Olympians, there’s a lot more than meets the eye.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians is the latest adaptation of the namesake middle-grade book series from the mind of celebrated author Rick Riordan. The first novel in the series, 2005’s The Lightning Thief, follows the troubled loner as he unearths the secrets involving his parentage, unexpectedly gains a makeshift family, and embarks on a dangerous quest to save the world.
After two woeful film adaptations that mangled the events of the first two books in the early 2010s, Percy returns to live action on Disney+ on Wednesday, December 20. The long-awaited series, executive produced by Riordan, promises a much more faithful retelling of Percy’s story.
Is ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ a Triumph or a Flop?
Percy Jackson (Walker Scobell) is a daydreamer. Or, at least, that’s what his teachers at Yancy Academy would like you to think. He’s a loner and a bully magnet with a temper who often sees strange things he can’t explain. After a monumental shift in his life results in him arriving at the secluded Camp Half-Blood, Percy learns a shocking family secret, which leads to him, his friend Grover (Aryan Simhadri), and a fellow camper named Annabeth (Leah Sava Jeffries) leaving the safety of camp and embarking on a dangerous quest.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians is leagues better than the maligned 2010 movie that shares its name. Percy and his friends are the correct age and their book-accurate adventures remain intact. The show is paced well, allowing the audience to get to know not only Percy but also his mother Sally (Virginia Kull) and his friends in ways the movie couldn’t.
Bear McCreary‘s ominous score sets the tension in the first episode and lightens along with the show’s tone, ebbing and flowing to match the emotional state of our heroes. The sound design is marvelously done, particularly during a pulse-pounding action sequence that makes up the first episode’s climax. Director James Bobin’s directing and the cinematography as a whole are well done and allow for an immersive viewing experience for longtime fans and newcomers alike.
The Cast of ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians‘ Ascends to Godly Heights
Scobell is wonderful as the title character. His casting as the young hero feels nearly as monumental as that of Daniel Radcliffe, who also led an immensely popular book adaptation in the 2000s and early 2010s. Scobell perfectly captures Percy’s confusion, anger, frustration, and wry humor in a star-making turn that will hopefully continue for years to come.
Simhadri, known for his work alongside Gabrielle Union and Zach Braff in 2022’s Cheaper by the Dozen remake, solidly portrays Grover’s nervous energy and lack of self-confidence. Percy’s most loyal friend, Simhadri nails the role of a young kid, wracked with insecurities, who still always tries to do the right thing. He also drives a lot of the show’s comedy, which mostly works, though a few jokes could have been better executed.
A lot has been made of Jeffries, a Black actress, portraying Annabeth Chase, a character described as having blond hair and stormy gray eyes in Riordan’s books. Jeffries endured a mountain of racist backlash after her casting announcement, prompting Riordan to publicly denounce the attacks and assert that Jeffries embodies the character fully and is the best actress for the job.
Jeffries excels in portraying Annabeth’s intelligence and her hardened, steely exterior. It’s easy to see why she was the top pick to portray the character, as she brings Annabeth to life in a way that’s eerily accurate to Riordan’s original creation.
The main three actors are young, and therefore, some of their acting could be stronger. There are one or two wooden line readings, but for the most part, the actors excel in their roles. Similar to the young trio cast in the Harry Potter films, they will likely improve over time as they age and get more comfortable in their roles.
‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ Delivers Monsters, Gods, and Family Drama
Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a neat, fairly book-accurate adaptation of The Lightning Thief’s first 13 chapters. It’s not a one-to-one retelling of the book, as some moments have been cut for budgetary reasons. The creative team tweaked and reworked other scenes for smoother and more succinct storytelling. A handful of moments not present in the books have also been included to either drive conflict, add context, or tease characters we’ll properly meet later.
Director James Bobin does a great job bringing Riordan’s vision to life across its two-episode premiere. After the relatively darker feel of the first episode, the tone lightens as the fantastical and whimsical world that serves as Percy’s new reality comes into focus. Bobin beautifully captures the wide-eyed wonder of a child entering a world where satyrs wander freely, nymphs roam the forests, and unpredictable gods serve as camp directors.
Percy’s world is a blend of fantastical and realistic, and modern touches of Ancient Greek. Much of that is due to the phenomenal production design by Dan Hennah, who created incredible sets that bring Percy’s world to life. For some scenes, the show utilizes the giant LED screen known as The Volume, which feels seamless and doesn’t distract from the scenes in which it’s present. Adding to the world’s aesthetic is Tish Monaghan‘s costume design, which combines modern clothing with Ancient Greek influences.
Inhabiting that world are many figures and creatures from Greek mythology. They include gods like Poseidon (Toby Stephens) and Zeus (the late Lance Reddick), and characters and creatures including Medusa (Jessica Parker Kennedy), satyrs, centaurs, and even the minotaur. The classic stories involving lusting for power, gluttony, hubris, and unrequited love are modernized in Percy’s tale, and the stories of his and other characters’ parentage are woven through them like a whimsical, colorful, and comforting quilt.
‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians’ Shines as Bright as a Master Bolt
The long-awaited Percy Jackson and the Olympians Disney+ series lives up to its source material. The first four episodes are not without flaws, but they are fun. Unlike the previous official adaptation of the story, this Disney+ series reveres the foundation upon which it stands. It sticks as closely to the narrative as its budget allows while making room for changes and additions approved by Riordan himself.
The result is a cleaner, neater story with added context that allows the narrative to breathe even as it zips through the events of the book’s first thirteen chapters. It’s a faithful live-action iteration of Percy’s story and sets the stakes for an epic back half of the season.
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'Percy Jackson and the Olympians' Review'Percy Jackson and the Olympians' Review
- A proper and faithful adaptation of the first Percy Jackson book.
- Strong writing and directing.
- Young actors fully embody their characters.
- Positive deviations from the book enhance the source material rather than take away from it.
Could Be Better
- Humor is hit-or-miss.
- Some CGI is a bit wonky.
- Some of the acting from its leads could be stronger.