Chances are if you have a teen or tween in your household, they might have read a Rick Riordan young adult novel or two from the Percy Jackson series. My own bookworm 12-year-old has read them all cover to cover multiple times. So, it’s no surprise he was excited to check out the new Disney+ series Percy Jackson and the Olympians. Admittedly, I know very little about the stories, and as my expert Riordan fan son advises, the movies that were released back in 2010 and 2013 “weren’t very good.” Nonetheless, we had high expectations for the series, and it has delivered.
Summary of the Plot
Following faithfully along with the story from the book thanks to Riordan himself being counted among the creators and executive producers, the story takes place in a fantasy world where gods and demigods exist along with ancient creatures, monsters, and heroes – the same you know from Greek mythology. The gods all reside in a place called Mount Olympus, conveniently atop the Empire State Building in New York City.
Percy (Walker Scobell) is your average, awkward pre-teen who doesn’t fit in at school. Along with being a nerdy outcast, he also can’t quite shake strange visions, including seeing his math teacher turn into a terrifying winged creature right in front of his eyes. No one else seems to see what he’s seeing. As it turns out, there’s a reason: Percy is secretly a demigod. His mother is human but the father he never knew (spoiler alert for those who don’t know the story) is the god Poseidon (though Percy doesn’t learn his dear dad’s identity until later). Monsters are hunting him down since he’s a “forbidden child” and they’re getting closer. A decision is made to move Percy to a safe location called Camp Half-Blood where children of gods live and monsters can’t get to them.
When tragedy strikes, Percy learns that the god Zeus (played by the late Lance Reddick) believes he has taken his thunderbolt. Fueled by more important motivations than saving the world and preventing war among the gods (yes, there’s something even more important to him), Percy decides to go on a mission with two others to retrieve the thunderbolt from whom he believes to be the real thief – Hades – and return it to Olympus. But it won’t be easy as they encounter mythical creatures, monsters, and gods all looking to put an end to Percy.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians Review
Watching the series’ first three episodes with someone who’s a die-hard fan is exciting. My son was able to point out all the similarities and differences between the series and the books. The actors all wonderfully portray their respective characters. The chemistry among Leah Jeffries as Annabeth Chase, fiercely strong daughter of Athena, Aryan Simhadri as Grover Underwood, Percy’s best friend and a satyr disguised as a 12-year-old, and Scobell as Percy is fabulously believable. If three pre-teens with glaringly different personalities were to set out on a journey, their constant disagreements about ridiculous things like what snacks to get and who’s in charge is exactly what it would be like.
While the trio of young’ens anchors the show, the supporting and recurring cast elevates it to another level. Glynn Turman is a booming voice of reason as Chiron/Mr. Brunner, a centaur who runs Camp Half-Blood, disguised as a teacher in the real world. Megan Mullally is frightening as Alecto/Mrs. Dodds, one of the three Furies serving the god Hades, disguised as a stern math teacher to the regular folk. A stand-out in the first episodes is the introduction of Jessica Parker Kennedy as Medusa, a young woman forced to live in solitude, cursed such that she can’t reveal her face to anyone. A mere glance would turn someone to stone. If her tense, awkward hamburger lunch with the trio is a sign of what’s to come in later episodes, these kids (and viewers) are in for a wild ride.
The visuals are stunning with decent visual effects and the story offers a beautiful melding of supernatural teen coming-of-age story (think Wednesday or even Harry Potter) combined with mythology and adventure (think Locke & Key). Seeing the characters, stories, and this complete alternate universe come to life is enough to encourage kids to want to read the books if they haven’t already.
It’s clear after the first three episodes that the series will focus on the kids making their way through dangerous zones, fighting and avoiding terrifying monsters and creatures, and growing as both humans and demigods along the way. Percy, meanwhile, slowly realizing the power he possesses builds anticipation as fans can’t wait to see just what he can do. One of the first incidents where his hidden powers helps him fend off bullies is brilliantly satisfying.
The oracle premonition that advises Percy he’ll be betrayed by someone he calls friend adds to the tension for both Percy and viewers: who will be the one to betray him, and how will it all play out? Those who have read the books, of course, already know the answer. But it’s still fun to watch it all play out.
Is Percy Jackson and the Olympians Worth Watching?
Yes! While Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a great story come to life for young adults who have read the books, it’s also an exciting show for those who haven’t. You don’t have to be particularly well-versed in mythology to appreciate the creativity and combination of humor, adventure, and fantasy. With backstories, explanations, and clear motivations, it’s easy to follow what’s going on and anticipate where the plot is going to go.
Since Percy Jackson and the Olympians is rated PG, it’s a show the whole family can watch together. Scobell, a relative newcomer who has only previously appeared in The Adam Project as a young Adam Reed and the superhero comedy Secret Headquarters, is a scene-stealer. But it’s the coming together of the trio along with the compelling stories and supporting cast that adds all the flavour to the Riordan recipe.
It’s evident that to create an on-screen adaptation of the stories, it was important that Riordan himself was involved. The author publicly criticized the final script of the 2010 movie, calling it on his website “almost recognizable as the same story.” Don’t be deterred if you watched the movies way back when and were disappointed with the changes; most notably aging up the lead character to 16, which removed much of his naivety and innocence. Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a whole new ballgame, in a league of its own. The show is something Riordan can be proud of, and that both fans of the books and newcomers to the story, alike, will thoroughly enjoy.