Review: Percy Jackson and the Olympians – A ‘Page Perfect’ Adaptation

Kaitlyn Beattie-Zarb praises Percy Jackson and the Olympians as an adaptation that ‘understands its source material and builds off its gods-given potential’ 5 stars.

(Image: Disney/David Bukach)

After over 20 books, two films, and 18 years of mythic adventures, Percy Jackson has finally reached the silver screen in full godly fashion.

From a world premiere in New York City’s Met to a London premiere complete with blue popcorn, Disney+ are working hard to give this long awaited adaptation the debut it deserves. And believe me, it was worth the wait.

Impeccable casting, awe-inspiring cinematography, and the knowing hands of Rick and Becky Riordan guide the screenplay alterations. Not only do they understand their source material, but they build off its gods-given potential in every scene.

Percy Jackson and the Olympians follows titular character Percy as he discovers that he is a demigod. 

Twelve years old, abandoned by his godly father, confused, and mad as Hades (as the demigods would say), Percy’s quest to discover who he is is only just beginning. 

With an initial five book series offering potential for years of televised adventures, the debut of this show is already being heralded as the franchise of the next decade.

The first two episodes, which debuted on Disney +, focus on Percy’s arrival at Camp Half Blood, offering the perfect amount of context and excitement for fans both old and new.

Author Rick Riordan, producer Becky Riordan, and the team at Disney + have put so much work into forming a show where the story fits its medium, engaging all viewers from the first meticulous frame. 

In fact this first frame – with its iconic “I didn’t want to be a halfblood” quote – is just as electric as fans had always hoped for, opening the story with a whirlwind of sand, sea, powerful potential and a strong dose of foreshadowing. Believe me when I say that book fans have waited years for Percy Jackson to utter these words on their screen.

(Image: Disney/David Bukach)

This is a story that knows its direction and runs with it. It knows its fan base and is fully aware of what is needed to appease their hopes for the show whilst presenting exciting new material. I can’t help but wonder if some of the plot fixes are closer to what Rick always intended too.

Many scenes are added to tidy the plot and fill the longer television run time. Particularly effective is the inclusion of glory as a plot driver, the more personable revelations from Percy’s mom, and some truly hilarious new character moments. A particularly memorable one, where Percy meets camp director Mr D, is bound to be a staple of fan edits for years to come!

It is also refreshing to see world-building so elaborate and well-respected that any writer can come in and build on the strong foundation, whilst fitting perfectly with the tone. Even as scenes or phrases change, the core of this strong tale is only further enhanced by vast and impressive cinematography.

While it’s not hard to make Olympian gods look impressive, what is trickier is ensuring a continuity of thoughtful design and picturesque lighting throughout even the most mundane of environments. From the way the light catches a Camp Half Blood t-shirt, frames an anxious mother sitting on a windowsill in the rain, or reflects off a museum statue with foreshadowing, this show is not content with allowing lazy or bored filmmaking just because it is for younger people.

From monsters, storms, dreams, and battles – every shot and scene is well considered and constructed.

(Image: Disney/David Bukach)

Whilst the casting of the core trio of heroes was a long and, at times, controversial process, there should now be no doubt that these are actors who will lead this franchise for years to come.

Walker Scobell as Percy is a powerhouse of nuance and emotion. He is Percy Jackson. From the way he actualises Percy’s vulnerability and confusion, to his snarky yet often uneasy confidence, I can’t wait to see him build on that brewing indignation for the gods. When Percy (and Walker) fully steps into his powers, well, Olympus (and Hollywood) had better watch out.

Leah Jefferies as Annabeth doesn’t appear much in the first two episodes but when she does, she steals the show. This young actress fills her few lines with as much earned subtlety and layered wisdom as she can. There is pain and thoughtfulness there. A brewing sass, and a nonstop passion. This is an actress who fully understands her character’s tough journey, both past, present and future, and is ready to spend years personifying it. “Wise girl” indeed.

Aryan Simhadri is clearly the heart and soul of this group. His Grover is page perfect- warm yet nervous, always imbrued with the growing maturity of the 24 year old satyr. Grover is a hard character to pull off, balancing the best friend and mentor tropes, but already Aryan’s Grover feels like the established protector of the group. 

(Image: Disney/David Bukach)

Rounding out the cast is a cohort of excellent side characters. In the first two epsiodes we meet godly greek figures Chiron (the trainer of heroes) and camp director Mr D, whose respective wisdom and comedic apathy are pulled directly from the book, and the greek myths that preceeded it. Glynn Turman and Jason Mantzoukas bring such subtle wisdom to their roles, forming the perfect longstanding partnership, and one ready to guide our heroes for years to come.

Percy’s mother Sally Jackson, played by Virginia Kull, is another exciting advancement of a book character. Sally’s impact on the plot is more purposefully weaved than any previous version of this story. A fan favourite of the series, beloved Sally brims with new layers of compassion and badassery, alonside a strong dose of nostalgia, fear, and a more youthful demeanour. 

From the acting to the visual artistry of world-building that translates this ancient story to the screen; this show constructs a fully realised world in every sense of the word. A world filled to the brim with characters, monsters, gods and adventures just waiting to be explored. A world pulled out of the page and onto the small screen with the care and hope of an author (and an audience) who have waited a decade for someone to do this right. 

This show ensures that this tale of ancient Gods and young heroes is not only told, but it is respected, understood, and built upon.

And if it doesn’t become a classic franchise for the ages… well then I’m a Greek god. 

Percy Jackson and the Olympians debuted on Disney Plus on Wednesday the 20th of December. New episodes are being released each week.