Percy Jackson and the Olympians is So Close to Being A Great Show
Disney+ has a Volume problem, and Percy Jackson is the latest series to suffer for it.
Percy Jackson and the Olympians is not a bad series. It’s not outright amazing either, though. Sure, it’s competently directed and boasts a compelling cast, along with some crisp visuals. It’s also a mercifully faithful adaptation of the book series by Rick Riordan, give or take a few tweaks. But in the pursuit of authenticity, it kind of forgets its soul.
Percy Jackson largely lacks the tension or the sense of fun that Riordan — who serves as co-creator — brought to the original series. In its stead, a heavy, self-serious tone presides over the whole affair, while Pierre Gill and Jules O’Loughlin strive to compensate with sweeping cinematography.
And listen: it pains me to pile on further, but those sets are a big part of the problem too. Like the bulk of the shows that have bowed on Disney+, Percy Jackson was largely filmed in the Volume, the immersive LED soundstage that’s gradually replacing green screens, practical sets, and outdoor locations altogether. In many ways, it’s great in a pinch — especially when it comes to keeping blockbusters from blowing their budgets. For others, it’s become an aesthetic crutch, rendering flat, hollow visuals in place of anything truly spectacular (or even remotely resembling real life).
Of course, it’s not always the Volume itself that is the problem; rather the way it’s used. Films like The Batman and The Creator (notably both shot by Greig Fraser) made fine use of the technology, crafting dynamic vistas and visceral worlds that only elevated the stories at hand. Disney+ shows have not had the same luck, despite being among the first to pioneer the technology. The Mandalorian felt like a showcase of some of the Volume’s best capabilities, but the sheen of it eventually wore off with Obi-Wan Kenobi and Ahsoka. Both series felt like they were filmed in a vacuum, devoid of any of the friction that a real-life set has to offer.
Percy Jackson makes an admirable effort to balance epic scale with its more intimate settings, but the Volume frequently threatens to swallow its protagonists whole. Between the bland void of the Underworld and the empty cabins of Camp Half-Blood, nothing feels natural or suitably scaled. Even the actors playing Greek gods look minuscule within the frame.
The series’ utter lack of finesse might not feel so glaring if it picked up the slack elsewhere. But there’s something lethargic about the series: it lacks the wit and momentum that made its source material such a compelling read. The script feels just as lazy as its shot design, and no performance is directed with any real sense of urgency. It’s touted as a series for a younger audience, but one episode alone would likely be hell on anyone’s attention span, let alone a generation of kids trained to watch multiple pieces of content simultaneously.
There are glimmers of a great show in here, somewhere — and thanks to its leading cast and a handful of truly great guest actors, it nearly scratches the itch it sets out to eradicate. But Percy Jackson would rather play things safe than push this story to the heights it deserves, and Disney’s boring house style only exacerbates the issues festering under the surface.