“Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” (2010) is a widely condemned film adaptation of the beloved “Percy Jackson & the Olympians” book series (2005–). While many fans were left disappointed by the film, its biggest hater could be found in the man who started it all. Rick Riordan, the series’ creator, described the movies on Twitter as his “life’s work going through a meat grinder.”
In a 2018 blog post, Riordan published letters he sent to the film’s producers begging them to preserve his story. The acquisition of 20th Century Fox by the Walt Disney Company in 2019 was Riordan’s opportunity to rewrite the past, this time as an executive producer. In a 2021 blog post, Riordan wrote about his confidence in the series and said that he was “over the moon about the level of thoughtfulness and love for the PJO book series that everyone is bringing to the discussion.”
While the movie set a low bar to be improved upon, Riordan’s promises of a more faithful and more fun adaptation set expectations sky-high. So did the series live up to its promise of achieving what the film could not?
A major win for the series was its cast. Walker Scobell, Leah Jeffries and Aryan Simhadri, who play Percy Jackson, Annabeth Chase and Grover Underwood, respectively, perfectly embody the natures of their characters. In episode 6, “We Take a Zebra to Vegas,” Scobell and Jeffries sell the innate chemistry of Percy and Annabeth. While sending an “Iris message” to Luke (Charlie Bushnell), Annabeth says, “toss it, Seaweed Brain,” and banter ensues, leading Luke to ask, “When did you turn into an old married couple?”
Another shoutout in terms of casting has to go to Adam Copeland’s Ares. Though the show boasts a slew of guest stars, from Megan Mullally to Jason Mantzoukas to Timothy Omundson, Copeland takes the cake. His interaction with the main trio is incredibly natural in its contempt, and he plays the willfully manipulated Ares to perfection.
The main way the series misses is in the pacing of the show, which is decidedly … slow. One of the hallmarks of a “Percy Jackson” quest is that the trio comes across silly versions of mythological figures and has to remember how they were defeated in their myths, but there is a clear lack of urgency throughout the quest that hinders the storytelling experience.
A perfect example is in the opening scene of episode 7, “We Find Out the Truth, Sort Of.” In the book, this is a drawn-out scene in which Annabeth and Grover are tricked into testing out enchanted waterbeds by the salesman, “Crusty.” They become trapped, only to be freed thanks to Percy’s quick wit as he recognizes and outsmarts Crusty, aka Procrustes, another son of Poseidon who would fatally stretch his victims on an iron bed. In the series, Percy simply walks into Crusty’s Waterbed Palace and declares, “I know who you are. You’re Procrustes,” cheapening the intrigue.
This leads us to the real problem of the show — it’s not fun. There are some quick comedic moments from Percy here and there (Percy flossing in episode one or the interaction between Percy and the Oracle in episode 3 come to mind) but ultimately the show lacks the innate sarcasm and silliness of the original book series.
The Lotus Casino, one of the most fun aspects of the first book in which Percy, Annabeth and Grover get stuck in time and actually get the opportunity to be kids, was boiled down to mere tedious exposition. The Lotus Casino is the one thing many Percy fans agree the 2010 movie did right, with its iconic Lady Gaga “Poker Face” soundtrack — and yet Riordan posted on Threads prior to the premiere of the Lotus Casino episode, “if some of you seriously think I’d allow any callbacks to certain movies, you haven’t been paying attention for the last decade. The show is its own thing. And imo it’s so much better!”
Did Riordan ultimately deliver on his promises? As an admitted fan of the original movie, it’s honestly hard to say yes. What the movie didn’t offer in terms of accuracy to the source material, it delivered in its playfulness that was true to the energy of the original book series. While the series found ways to enhance the story for new viewers, including giving Percy four pearls to return from the Underworld instead of three or by changing the final scene with Luke to highlight Percy’s fatal flaw and bring Annabeth into the fold, it fell short of its promises to improve wholly on the defunct 2010 film.
In the future, the series needs to bring more of Percy’s sarcasm, more urgency and suspense to the plot and trust that the audience trusts its protagonists to problem-solve in the moment, instead of knowing the problem firsthand.