Percy Jackson and the Olympians Review: Too Safe To Be Fun

The adaptation of Rick Riordan’s bestselling series is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians Review: Too Safe To Be Fun
Percy Jackson and the Olympians Review: Too Safe To Be Fun

Cast:Walker Scobell, Leah Jeffries, Aryan Simhadri, Azriel Dalman, Glynn Turman, Jason Mantzoukas, Lin Manuel Miranda, Virginia Kull

Director(s): Anders Egstrom, Jet Wilkinson, James Bobin

Writer(s): Daphne Olive, Rick Riordan, Jonathan E. Steinberg, Joe Tracz, Monica Owusu-Breen, Andrew Miller, Craig Silverstein

Number of Episodes: 8

Available on: Disney+ Hotstar

Humour might be scant in the Disney+ adaptation of Rick Riordan’s bestselling series and the fans of the book are feverishly unsure about the choices where it patently departs from the books, but in the last episode it more or less arrives at the same place. Would Percy Jackson, our demigod hero, deviate from his allegiance to the Greek gods because of their irreverence to their children, and endorse Kronos’s bid for power instead?

In the eight-part series, Riordan has donned the cap of writer as well as executive producer in a bid to make this adaptation more faithful to his book than the flashy but disappointing movie adaptation.

A Quest To Do Better Than the Film

As in the book Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, our protagonist in the streaming adaptation, Percy (Walker Scobell), discovers he is a half-blood, meaning his father is the Greek god of the seas, Poseidon (Toby Stephens). At Camp Half-Blood camp — a safe haven for demigods such as Percy — he makes friends and enemies before setting off on a quest. Zeus  (Lance Reddick) is harbouring a disturbing misconception about Percy having stolen his lightning bolt at Poseidon’s, which means Percy has to recover it to clear his own name and his father’s reputation. Also, Sally (Virginia Kull) might be a hostage of Hades, the god of the Underworld. 

Annabeth, Grover and Percy.
Annabeth, Grover and Percy.

The show is bolstered by a supporting cast that can range from roguishly charming to forgettable. On a scale of Medusa (Jessica Parker Kennedy) to Hades (Jay Duplass), most of the acting performances in Percy Jackson hover in an unremarkable middle. Kennedy delivers a bewitching appearance as Medusa, dishing out her misgivings against the parents of Percy and Annabeth, with her deadly eyes obscured behind a net. Hades (and most of the other gods) register as bland. Stephens gets to save the day repeatedly as Poseidon but doesn’t have the aura of a hero. Reddick is dressed in a suit that makes him look vaguely like the maitre d’ at a posh restaurant rather Zeus, lord of Olympus. Even Lin Manuel Miranda’s guest appearance — he plays Hermes, the god of thieves and travellers — seems memorable for his celebrity rather than anything else, despite a gratuitously teased out sequence at the end of episode four.

Cute but Predictable

Early on in the series, when the Oracle delivers a cryptic prophecy for Percy, it becomes obvious that there’s going to be a twist in the tale. Unfortunately, there’s so little tension in the show as Percy and his friends carry out the quest to find Zeus’s lightning bolt that when the show delivers its final reveal, it feels mostly like an anticlimax. Rather than a child of the obnoxious Ares, Percy’s nemesis turns out to be someone he considered his friend. There’s more drama in that one sentence than in the whole confrontation scene between the two characters (which includes a swordfight). 

Percy Jackson and the Olympians Review: Too Safe To Be Fun
Percy Jackson and the Olympians Mid-Season Breakdown: A Gentle and Soaring Adaptation

It feels cruel to persistently contrast the series with the books, and chastise it for choices because of which the stakes register with a feebler thud. By the same token, it doesn’t feel fair to let this Percy Jackson off the hook just because it’s not as disappointing as the film. Percy’s alienation amongst his non-demigod peers; his disgust towards his stepfather; the existential rumination about his biological father’s dynamic with his mother; his quest to evade bullying whether it pops in the form of popular kids at his school in New York, or at Camp Half-Blood; the life-threatening face-off with Cerberus — none of this makes as much of a dramatic or emotional impact as you’d expect, considering the original story. 

To the show’s credit, it does adequately communicate the risks that Percy, Grover and Annabeth undertake to avoid the catastrophic consequences of a fight between the Olympians and the threat posed by Kronos (for those who aren’t familiar with either Riordan’s books or ancient Greek mythology, Kronos was the leader of the Titans and father of the Olympians. He was overthrown by Zeus and imprisoned in Tartarus, in the underworld). However, for the purposes of the show’s narrative, that’s a very basic requirement.

A Kid-Shaped Hero

The tone of Percy Jackson is simply gentler and graver than its novel counterpart, with playful sword fights, tsunami-like waves washing away an upright Ares, and Cerberus surrendering to light petting. Evidently crafted to be a kids’ show, there’s little darkness or threat posed to Percy and his friends who engineer predictable escapes from threats that rarely pack any genuine menace. The approach, perhaps, also pumps up Disney’s attempt to court a far younger fantasy consuming audience than what its current TV series catalogue, including Marvel Studios and Star Wars, enables.

Annabeth, Grover and Percy.
Annabeth, Grover and Percy.

Gently floating above the diluted stakes is Percy’s emotional study of his father’s presumed lifelong neglect, and his mother’s sustained efforts at grasping at a chance of normalcy for him. In the end, he asks his father if he dreams, and if yes, if he ever dreamt about Percy’s mother. Though he doesn’t get a straightforward answer, the moment is telling enough to know that the oddness of Percy’s situation could never render easy solutions. Our demigod hero, who has also become somewhat of an unofficial leader after the completion of his quest, is steadfast in his stance to support the gods, for now.

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