"The Lightning Thief," the first installment in author Rick Riordan's five-book series titled "Percy Jackson & the Olympians," suggests that this could be the start of something adequate. Something big would've been nicer, though the movie's limitations are less a matter of scale than of imagination. It may be Chris Columbus' fate to initiate a fantasy franchise destined to be taken over and improved by his successors. Certainly it happened with the " Harry Potter" juggernaut. Columbus directed the first two films, profitably but without much personality, though various directors since brought interesting and vivid wrinkles to J.K. Rowling's universe.
Now Columbus has taken on "The Lightning Thief," a fantasy construct in which Greek gods threaten war in modern-day America over Zeus' missing lightning bolt. The books are very big in our house right now: My son (who enjoyed the film more than I did) just started No. 3. I can see why Riordan's series has so many fans. The first book is pace-y as all get-out, chockablock with exotic dangers — if it's not Medusa, it's the Lord of the Underworld or the Furies — and in "The Lightning Thief," the young hero, Percy, played in the film by Logan Lerman, must confront his true nature as a half-blood son of the sea god Poseidon.
Percy, his satyr-protector Grover (Brandon T. Jackson) and late-teen warrior princess Annabeth (Alexandra Daddario) set off on a quest for three pearls that hold the key to the underworld and the lair of Hades. Hades is played by Steve Coogan, who gets to intone the sentence "Summon the hounds," while Rosario Dawson slinks around as Persephone. Percy, who never knew his Greek god father, has a plan to trade the lightning bolt (which he didn't steal, as he reminds people constantly) for the return of Percy's mother, played by Catherine Keener.
Columbus' casting instincts have let him down here a bit (he certainly got that right with the "Harry Potter" films). The central trio makes for reasonably good screen company, nothing less or more. But their banter and travails, scripted with no particular wit or style, feels like hand-me down snark.
Percy, who has dyslexia and attention deficit challenges, has been bumped up in age from 12 to 17. That's too bad, I think: This is an adolescent's odyssey. The movie, which of course owes a lot to Harry Potter and company, won't ruin anybody's life. But even with all its computer-generated fireballs, it's lukewarm medium budget blockbustering.
A young hero battles Greek gods who threaten war in modern-day America to recover a powerful object.
With Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson. Directed by Chris Columbus.
Running time: 119 minutes
Rated PG: Violence/peril, scary images, suggestive languageCopyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times