Percy Jackson and the Olympians Review (Spoiler-Free): A Worthy Adaptation That Will Thrill Book Readers and New Fans
This spoiler-free review is based on the first two episodes of Percy Jackson and the Olympians Season 1.
If you thought puberty was hard, try being a demigod. That’s what Percy Jackson, a not-so-normal 12-year-old boy from New York City, deals with in Disney+’s new fantasy series Percy Jackson and the Olympians.
Based on the best-selling book series by Rick Riordan, the show’s first season adapts the first book The Lightning Thief. After learning the Greek gods of myth are real, and that one of them is his dad, Percy (Walker Scobell) is sent to Camp Half-Blood to train among other demigod children.
Eventually, he must go on a dangerous quest to fight gods and monsters. He’s joined by his friends Annabeth Chase (Leah Sava Jeffries) and Grover Underwood (Aryan Simhadri) as they travel across America to find and return Zeus’ master bolt and stop a war between the gods.
An Adaptation Fit for the Gods?
Adapting a best-selling, beloved series is no easy task. For proof, you need look no further than the lukewarm reception of the Percy Jackson film adaptations from 2010 and 2013, which drew ire from fans for their lack of faithfulness to the source material. (Percy is aged up in the films, which is just one of the many changes).
In contrast, the Percy Jackson and the Olympians television series has the blessing of Riordan, who serves as executive producer and co-wrote Episodes 1 and 2 with Jonathan E. Steinberg.
So for the book readers eagerly devouring every review let me reassure you now: this adaptation is a success. As with any adaptation, there are a few tweaks, but the spirit of the story and the characters (and most of the plot from what I’ve seen) remain intact.
It’s a warm, adventurous tale that will captivate anyone tuning in and leave you wanting to see what’s next.
Its close adherence to the book doesn’t prevent it from being accessible to new viewers. The first two episodes go to great lengths to set up the world of the Greek gods being real and explain the ground rules, such as why monsters are attracted to demigods and why mortals can’t see mythical creatures.
Fans of the books will enjoy the attention to detail paid, whether it’s something as simple as an acknowledgment of Percy’s favorite color or as precious as dialogue lifted straight from the book pages. Viewers new to the world will enjoy the amount of worldbuilding that attention to detail brings.
For instance, it’s hard not to marvel at how beautifully rendered Camp Half-Blood is, so full of movement and detail. It feels like it possesses a life of its own beyond Percy’s journey and is more than just a set with some background actors dropped in (if Disney ever needed a new theme park idea, here’s one).
Although the first two episodes can be a little exposition-heavy at times, the setup largely works because the audience gets to react to all this information alongside Percy. You’re on his journey and with him for his disbelief and, at times, frustration.
On paper being the child of a god seems great, but as you’re warned at the beginning of Episode 1, it comes at a high cost.
A Pantheon of Talented Actors
Scobell is a breakout star as Percy, bringing both a youthful verve and real vulnerability to the character. Yes, Percy is still a sometimes silly, sarcastic 12-year-old boy, but you feel immediately connected to him as he endures tragedy and life-altering revelations because Scobell knows how to tap into and communicate those deeper emotions as well as the humor.
As important as the ensemble is, the show doesn’t work without a strong lead and Scobell carries the story with a convincing, heartfelt performance.
Percy’s trademark humor and sarcasm are still present but feel more updated to the times. Given the original book was published almost two decades ago in 2005, it’s not a bad thing.
The show walks the line between comedy and serious adventure while relying less heavily on Percy’s ongoing internal monologue of quips and middle-school humor.
There is plenty to praise with the rest of the cast we meet as well. Aryan Simhadri appears early in Episode 1 as Grover Underwood and smoothly carries a lot of exposition material and plays the nervous but devoted satyr to a tee.
Glynn Turman brings gravitas to some of the sillier elements as Percy’s wise teacher and mentor Chiron. Jason Mantzoukas perfectly captures the fickleness of the gods as surly camp director Mr. D AKA Dionysus. It’s honestly hard to imagine anyone but Mantzoukas playing the god of wine and festivity given his strong resume of chaotic characters.
If you’ll allow me one personal quibble as a fan of the books, it’s that there’s not nearly enough of fellow camper Annabeth Chase in the first two episodes. It makes some sense given what plot is covered, but book readers know how crucial the dynamic of Percy and Annabeth (#Percabeth) is to the story and will be eager to see more of her.
Based on the limited screen time we do see of Leah Sava Jeffries, however, she captures the character’s confidence and mostly loveable know-it-all attitude well. And importantly she and Scobell have instant chemistry as screen partners.
Rest assured, your favorite trio is in good hands with this young cast of talented actors.
Fun For All Mortals
Although its worldbuilding is certainly impressive, it’s important to remember the source material is for ages 10 and up, and Percy Jackson and the Olympians remains accessible to that age group.
The action of the series is relatively tame in terms of graphic violence so it’s safe for fans of all ages to enjoy (this isn’t House of the Dragon, folks). Yes, there are monster fights but you’ll see that even their deaths take on a muted quality because of the rules of the world.
Because of its fantasy elements, Disney doesn’t skimp on the effects budget though the CGI isn’t necessarily anything groundbreaking. There’s one scene in particular, set at night, during Episode 1 which is a little hard to see. Hopefully, that isn’t a recurring issue in the season.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians is a charming fantasy adventure for the whole family. The first two episodes bear the burden of some exposition but also deliver ample excitement to balance it out. With the show’s electrifying worldbuilding and standout performances, you’ll want to tune in for the rest of the season and join Percy on his quest.
The first two episodes of Percy Jackson and the Olympians premiere on Disney+ on December 20. A new episode premieres weekly for the rest of the season.