As we’ve all learned the hard way from J.K. Rowling and the slow-motion train-wreck that is the Fantastic Beasts franchise, giving authors too much creative control over adaptations of their work can be…uh, risky. I say this as a writer who would very much like to be invited onto the hypothetical film set of any hypothetical adaptation of my own somewhat hypothetical fantasy novel, but the truth is that published authors can be a somewhat stubborn lot – convinced they know exactly what’s right for their story and characters, and unwilling to allow professional directors, screenwriters, and casting directors to do their thing.
It’s a good thing, then, that Rick Riordan appears to be the polar opposite of J.K. Rowling – in every way in which an author and a person can be. I try not to use the term “genuinely decent human being” of people I don’t actually know, but Riordan has minded his own business for as long as I’ve been following him on social media, and I appreciate that he seems to know when and how to properly utilize the power of his massive following, and when not to speak at all. That, and I guess the fact that he actually writes awesome queer and trans characters into his books and doesn’t wait for decades to have passed before ever retroactively confirming when a character is gay (I’m looking directly at you, Rowling).
I also appreciate that, while Riordan has made no secret of his disdain for the Percy Jackson films made between 2010 and 2013, and his negative reaction was not at all unwarranted given how badly those films butchered even the most basic themes of his books, he is coming into the new adaptation of Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief for Disney+ with the understanding that there are fundamental differences between writing books and writing for television, and that just because he knows the story better than anyone doesn’t mean he’s necessarily the best person to translate it into a visual medium. He has joined forces with some excellent writers and producers, including Black Sails‘ Jonathan E. Steinberg, Dan Shotz, and Daphne Olive, and Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Monica Owusu-Breen, among several others.
The area in which I’m most pleased to see that Riordan is getting a say is casting – because if there was one thing about the 2010 Percy Jackson adaptation that ruined that movie for me and many other fans (it’s hard to limit it to just one thing, actually), it was the casting of actors in their late teens as characters depicted in the first book as twelve-year old children, completely altering the dynamics of their relationships with each other. Riordan was firmly opposed to the decision to “age up” his heroes, but had no power whatsoever over the production.
This time around, the mistakes that doomed the Percy Jackson film franchise to a swift death won’t be repeated, as Riordan has made the wise decision to look for age-appropriate actors who can grow into the key roles of Percy Jackson, Annabeth Chase, and Grover Underwood, alongside a new generation of fans. Yesterday, it was announced that thirteen-year old Walker Scobell of Netflix’s The Adam Project has joined the production in the role of Percy Jackson himself – and the enthusiastic response to the casting even from adult fans of the books is proof, if any was needed, that this was always the correct approach to take.
I suppose I ought to explain what the books are about. Percy Jackson is an urban-fantasy series that hinges on the intriguing premise that all of the gods and monsters of ancient Greek mythology are real and very much alive in the present day, where they take frequently amusing disguises. Percy Jackson himself is a demigod, the only known son of Poseidon, god of the sea. He gets mixed up in a war between the gods after being implicated in the theft of Zeus’ prized lightning bolt, and has to battle Medusa, the Minotaur, Ares, and other characters both iconic and obscure on his journey to Los Angeles to find the true Lightning Thief and clear his name.
Along the way, he’s joined by Annabeth Chase, a daughter of Athena, goddess of wisdom, and Grover Underwood, a timid satyr tasked with protecting demigods from monsters. Annabeth and Grover have yet to be cast, but Riordan has promised that those and other announcements are not far off. Personally, I’m most interested to see the actors playing the Greek gods – something about the 2010 Percy Jackson film that bothered me to no end was how the director and writers took everything that was funny and clever about Rick Riordan’s descriptions of the gods and simply…stripped it all away.
As for whether Walker Scobell will make a good Percy Jackson, I finally started watching The Adam Project last night (Scobell’s only film to date, available on Netflix), and while Ryan Reynolds is every bit as grating as I usually find him to be, Scobell is honestly delightful as the younger version of Reynolds’ character – he’s snarky, funny, and expressive, with great comedic timing and a natural gift for monologuing. With slightly darker hair, that’s Percy Jackson right there.
I always worry for child actors joining major franchises and potentially becoming targets for bullying and harassment from adults, but for some reason I want to believe that the Percy Jackson fandom is…I don’t know, relatively more chill than other fandoms where this has been a problem. Despite having read all the books, I haven’t interacted with very many Percy Jackson fans, so I just don’t know, and at this point I’d be a little scared to dive in.
So anyway, what do you think of Walker Scobell’s casting, and how excited are you for the new Percy Jackson series? Share your own thoughts, theories, and opinions, in the comments below!
As someone who has been an avid fan of Greek mythology ever since I read Edith Hamilton’s Mythology as a kid, I was admittedly a little wary of starting Netflix’s newest anime series, Blood Of Zeus: the series tells a wholly new story unlike anything from the myths themselves, but embellishes it with all the trappings we know from the Greek legendarium. I’m not much of a stickler for accuracy when it comes to adapting the ancient myths, but I find it…vaguely frustrating whenever adaptations mess up and try to Hollywood-ize a mythology that is already so incredibly exciting and engaging that it has survived in the public consciousness for millennia. Blood Of Zeus is at least trying to create something more in line with the tone of the ancient myths, although it too falters more often than it succeeds. In the end, I regard the series as fun, deeply flawed entertainment that just takes a little too long to get to the really good stuff…but once it gets there, dangerously close to the season finale, it gets so good, so briefly, that you’ll be hooked and probably left hoping for a second season.
The first few episodes of the series, unfortunately, are so slow-paced that you might be tempted to opt out long before you reach that point – and I wouldn’t blame you. There are extensive interludes between the action and drama that are filled to the brim with exposition and meandering flashback sequences. We have to flesh out our hero’s backstory, you see, and then we have to do the same for our main villain. It’s only after Zeus (Jason O’Mara) personally enters the fray and our protagonist Heron (Derek Phillips) finally assembles his rag-tag team of heroes – somewhat spontaneously, to be honest – that things start to heat up, with a visit to the heavenly haunts of Mount Olympus, a mystical encounter with the three Fates, and a journey through a section of the Labyrinth all packed into about a single genuinely thrilling hour.
What these three events have in common is their roots in ancient Greek myth – and Blood Of Zeus is at its best when it’s putting a cool, dark twist on the Greek legends and not trying to stray too far from the extremely solid source material. Whenever it begins to move in any other direction or tries to build up its own deep lore, it feels jarringly dissimilar to the rest of the series and a bit generic. Heron, the illegitimate son of Zeus, is only one of several major characters who don’t really have much in the way of a personality or motivation (partly due to all of the interesting and exciting bits of his backstory only pertaining to his infancy, leaving adult Heron with…not a whole lot). Alexia (Jessica Henwick), the series’ female lead and an Amazon warrior, has a lot of screentime but seems the most disconnected from the other characters and even the story itself: she’ll run past every now and again on the trail of some demon, but the show never really tries to do anything with her. As is all too common these days, the comic relief characters are the only ones that feel developed and likable – smuggler Evios (Chris Diamantopoulos) and wrestler Kofi (Adetokumboh M’Cormack) have fun, easygoing banter and maybe a spark of chemistry? Perhaps I was just reading too much into their relationship. You’ll have to forgive me, though; Greek mythology is among the gayest in the world, and I was a little confused about why that wasn’t being accurately represented onscreen (we’ll talk about the actual bisexual representation in the show soon, don’t worry).
The Gods are more fleshed out than their human co-stars, luckily. Zeus’s dynamic with his wife Hera (Claudia Christian) is lifted almost straight from the myths of old, though the portrayal of Hera and the demonstration of her famous anger is one of the series’ greatest (yet least surprising) missteps. Unfortunately, men have almost always written Hera the same exact way, from ancient Greek times to today: she’s the unreasonable, unhinged mad woman who relentlessly terrifies and tortures her husband’s many lovers. Blood Of Zeus makes no attempt to shake up the narrative – in fact, it doubles down on this centuries-old stereotype and takes Hera to the next level, elevating her to a mentally unstable tyrant whose ultimate goal is to tear down Olympus stone by stone. Meanwhile Zeus is portrayed as loving, sympathetic and caring; but only towards a single mortal woman. Leaving aside the fact that mythological Zeus never had fewer than a hundred mistresses simultaneously and the thought of him settling on just one is laughable from that standpoint, it’s honestly just cringeworthy to see how the script puts Zeus on a pedestal while having him gaslight his wife. At a time when feminist retellings of Greeks myths (like Madeline Miller’s Circe) have never been more popular, the decision to write Hera this way betrays a lack of imagination from the writers, but also a staggering amount of ignorance to the fact that the “mad woman” trope is harmful and degrading, whether its being used to give Jon Snow a reason to turn on Daenerys Targaryen, or for the X-Men to turn on Jean Grey, or for Zeus to turn on Hera. If you’re going to rewrite the myth to make Zeus some high and mighty good guy with a heart of gold, you can also write a version where Hera is a sympathetic character for once, or at least not being vilified for reacting to her husband’s misdeeds.
The one good thing that Blood Of Zeus does with Hera’s character is make her physically powerful. In the myths, such as in The Iliad, her influence is mostly felt behind the scenes: unlike Athena or Artemis, she hardly ever goes down to the battlefield personally. In this series, however, she can levitate both herself and whatever else happens to be in the vicinity – usually large, sharp objects or boulders. She also has an entire army of crow minions: a strange choice, considering that crows aren’t sacred to Hera, but probably a bit more practical than the alternative – an army of peacocks. All these things help to make her extremely impressive and formidable during action scenes. It’s just a shame that the script forces her to use her powers for evil the whole time.
Speaking of powers, let’s talk about Hermes (Matthew Mercer), who somehow stands out from the crowded ensemble cast as my favorite of the Greek Gods. Despite being maybe a little bit overexposed in the myths themselves – he shows up in more myths than any of the other Olympians – these days he’s mostly remembered for his iconic caduceus, if he’s remembered at all. Blood Of Zeus presents him as a pretty awesome, rainbow-cloaked speedster who also gets to regularly fulfil his duties as the psychopompos: essentially the usher of the dead, who leads souls to the Underworld, including most of the casualties inflicted by the brutal warfare throughout the series. It’s a great way to highlight an overlooked aspect of his character, and makes me wish the same courtesy had been extended to literally any other Olympian.
Out of the remaining Gods, Apollo (Adam Croasdell) is the only other one with a good deal of screentime and his own subplot. He’s also the only identifiably LGBTQ+ character in the entire series, or at least that’s the implication we’re supposed to take away from a single scene of him sleeping in the embrace of both a man and a woman. Considering that we’re dealing with the Greek gods here, I found this kind of blink-and-you’ll-miss-it representation to be slightly disappointing. Zeus, Poseidon, and Dionysus all had at least one male lover each. Hercules had male lovers (something Disney definitely left out of their movie). As much as I unabashedly adore Apollo, why is he the only LGBTQ+ representation we got from Blood Of Zeus? I don’t mind changing the myths, but changing them to be less gay? WHY?
You might be wondering why I haven’t mentioned any of the other goddesses besides Hera yet, and that’s because…they’re not there. The series almost entirely erases the great women of Greek mythology: the Amazons are only represented by a single character, whose ultimate purpose in the story turns out to be shockingly minor; Athena, the goddess of warfare herself, is reduced to a background character with no dialogue, while Ares fills her role as war god for only the umpteenth time in Hollywood history; Aphrodite, Artemis, and Demeter are extras only used to fill out crowd scenes. And if that wasn’t enough, the show has a serious issue when it comes to fridging the few female characters it does have; murdering them to motivate the male characters.
Blood Of Zeus is still fun and largely enjoyable for its final three episodes, or otherwise this would just be a rant review. The animation style is beautiful, although there’s nowhere near enough character differentiation for a cast this large, and the action scenes are visually stunning: every major character has some kind of specific ability that enables them to keep up with all the gods and monsters, whether that’s agility or wits or super strength. The fights are often brutally violent, and the series makes sure never to give anyone too much plot armor – even the Gods can be wounded, mutilated or killed, which helps to make every battle suspenseful: even if you know a character won’t necessarily die, there’s nothing to say they won’t lose a limb. Especially because the villains aren’t all bark and no bite: both Hera and the main antagonist Seraphim (Elias Toufexis) kill people, frequently. Seraphim, a merciless demon war lord with a cool set of facial scars, is in fact only interesting whenever he’s killing people – because whenever he’s not, he’s usually brooding instead, and that’s always a recipe for Boring Villain Syndrome™. He’s an original character, in case you hadn’t guessed. He also walks or flies around accompanied by a whole bunch of original characters: a scurrying, uniform demon horde that might as well just be the wights of Game Of Thrones (a series with which Blood Of Zeus has too many similarities for its own good).
The funny thing is that, for the most part, my problems with Blood Of Zeus don’t really arise from any sense of indignation or outrage about all the changes made to the myths: in a mythology that evolved as rapidly as that of the Greeks, there’s not really any set “canon” to adhere to anyway. I love retellings, especially when they re-examine a well-known story from a completely new perspective or from a different angle – for instance, Mary Renault did this incredibly well in her books about the hero Theseus. So mostly I’m just amused and confused that any scriptwriter could look at a mythology as rich and utterly bizarre as this one, and decide that what it really needs is a whole bunch of new, made-up stuff like zombie demons. When that new, made-up stuff is entertaining in its own right, fine. But the writing for Blood Of Zeus simply isn’t strong enough to make any of the new stuff work, and so it’s the ancient Greeks who have the last laugh.
All that being said, the series is still a lot of fun! Seeing even small bits and pieces of the myths brought to life is an experience that leaves a mark, and makes me want more: yes, even more of this particular show. And let me tell you in as non-spoilery terms as possible that the finale of Blood Of Zeus lay good, strong groundwork for another season – one that honestly sounds a lot more interesting than the first. But even if it isn’t, even if this show simply is not my cup of tea, I hope that it will at least pave the way for other dark adaptations of Greek mythology that I (and anybody else wounded to the core by this show’s lack of Athena) might enjoy. There’s a lot more to the Greek mythos than just Hercules, and I hope Blood Of Zeus – not to mention the upcoming Percy Jackson series – gets that message through to Hollywood once and for all.
It’s been a long wait, but the hopes and dreams of Percy Jackson fans worldwide (and there are a lot of them, as shown by the way they’ve taken over Twitter) have finally been realized – bestselling author Rick Riordan and his wife announced today that they have convinced Disney to adapt Riordan’s Percy Jackson And The Olympians series: a series many regard to be every bit as iconic and formative as the Harry Potter and Hunger Games books, and that, with a dedicated and faithful approach to the source material, could have just as much success onscreen as both those franchises.
But whereas both Harry Potter and The Hunger Games have only had one, definitive adaptation, Percy Jackson is different in that it was adapted once before – and fans of the books, including Riordan himself, were almost unanimous in declaring that the two films derived from the first two books in the series were badly-written, badly-cast, and just….well, bad. After the two films’ poor reception, the planned franchise (then owned by 20th Century Fox) quickly dried up, and any hope of a proper reboot seemed lost. Until this year, when Rick Riordan started casually dropping hints on his social media accounts that implied he had been meeting with Disney executives to discuss the possibility of a reboot – and now, at last, it’s finally here. It’s happening. And it might just be good.
The new adaptation will be a series, planned to debut on Disney+, the studio’s streaming platform. Riordan announced several details about the series: it will be a multi-season commitment, with each season covering one whole book in his original, five-part series (though there will likely be room for spinoffs, perhaps even ones adapting Riordan’s other series’ set in the same universe as Percy Jackson, such as Heroes Of Olympus and The Kane Chronicles, if this series does well). The first season, for instance, will consist of the entirety of the series’ first book, Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief. For those of you not in the know, allow me to give you a quick rundown of the story (and let me assure you, I am not some poser copy-and-pasting summaries of the books from Wikipedia pages: I was and still am a big fan of Riordan’s work, and I own copies of all of his books, all the way through to The Trials Of Apollo. In fact, I’m so much of a fan that it drove me mad that I had to use images from others of Riordan’s books to fill out this post: unfortunately, there’s not enough images solely of art from Lightning Thief).
The Lightning Thief sets up the saga of Percy Jackson, a twelve-year old boy when the story opens (very important point, we’ll get back to that), who quickly discovers that he is the secret son of Poseidon, the ancient Greek god of the ocean – which makes Percy both a demigod and a “half-blood”, a term applied to all characters in the series with one mortal and one immortal parent. Percy is swept off to Camp Half-Blood, where he encounters a host of other characters with similar backgrounds – but, for the first few books at least, Percy is the only demigod whose parent is one of the “Big Three”: that is, Zeus, Poseidon and Hades (not to be confused with the Hades who will soon show up in Disney’s live-action remake of Hercules). His supporting cast includes Annabeth Chase, a strategical, ingenious daughter of Athena, goddess of wisdom; Grover Underwood, a satyr entrusted with protecting Percy’s life from various mythological monsters (one of the best things about Riordan’s work is that he uses some truly obscure characters from the myths, rather than just exploiting the big names like Medusa, The Minotaur and The Hydra – in fact, those three monsters, despite being the most popular, are probably among those used the least overall in the series); and Luke Castellan, a son of Hermes and one of the senior members of Camp Half-Blood’s management alongside the immortal centaur Chiron and the expelled Olympian Dionysus, who goes by “Mr. D” while on earth. This core cast of characters is expanded as times goes on, and, of course, they are joined from time to time by a number of Greek gods: all of the pantheon, from Zeus to Hestia, show up in some form or another, and some play integral roles in the plot. These gods are on the brink of open war when the story begins, and Percy Jackson gets drawn into the middle of their conflict as a pawn, while trying to locate a dangerous artifact stolen from Zeus’ possession.
Obviously, any adaptation of a work is going to make changes – that’s why it’s called an adaptation, and not a word-for-word translation. But most agree that the Percy Jackson series needs a more faithful adaptation than whatever it was we got in the film duology: in the films, Percy and his friends are all angsty teenagers rather than kids, and their humor is more coarse and adult than the witty style that Riordan wrote into his books; the films use overexposed and frankly boring monsters in place of some of Riordan’s more creative choices – one particularly awful instance is when The Hydra is employed as a substitute for Echidna and The Chimera, two far more compelling monsters; the gods are depicted as stereotypical Greek warriors of gargantuan stature, when in the books one of the defining features of the gods is how human they are – Poseidon wears tacky Hawaiian shirts and enjoys fishing, while Ares is a hyper-aggressive macho biker and Zeus is a permanently dour middle-aged man in a pinstripe suit; and the story is unnecessarily convoluted by the introduction of a new quest to find magical pearls that, in the books, is summed up in a single scene.
Needless to say, fans demand and expect better from Disney – what we (I feel comfortable saying we, because I do regard myself as a hardcore fan) expect is a series that highlights the best aspects of the books and reminds us just how much they meant to us, growing up. Percy Jackson made me into a Greek mythology buff, and I have retained all (or at least most) of the knowledge I obtained when, after reading the books, I would immediately set about researching every single mythological character referenced in the books, from Kronos (Lord of the Titans, imprisoned in Tartarus after brutally murdering his own father and then subsequently being brutally murdered by his own son, temporarily defeated by a hairbrush) to Kampê (demonic, scimitar-wielding entity ordered by Zeus to keep watch over the hundred-handed Hecatonkheires on Alcatraz Island). Thankfully, Rick Riordan assured us all that he will be supervising the development of the series, and will be on-set regularly to make sure everything is going smoothly, and his artistic vision is being respected.
I am also certain that Riordan, who has recently established himself as a progressive voice in young adult (YA) literature, will also insist that Disney includes far more diversity than he himself wrote into his first series of books. For example, several characters from his first series are confirmed, in more recent books, to be on the LGBTQ+ spectrum – but I think Riordan will at least try to have those often emotional coming out scenes happen sooner, rather than later. Similarly, I expect there to be several more female characters in the first season of the series than just Annabeth, Percy Jackson’s mom, the camp bully Clarisse, and a scattering of monsters and nymphs. I will also be interested to see if Grover, one of the few characters racebent for the film adaptation, will go back to being a white character in the reboot, or if Riordan will choose to keep that one element from those otherwise easily forgettable adaptations (though, if they do choose to make Grover black in the Disney+ series, I hope his portrayal will be more sympathetic this time, and less borderline overtly racist caricature).
As a side-note, I also just want to point out that I have several fancasts already brewing in my head, and I may feel the need to share some of them with you in another post somewhere down the line. So be on the lookout for that.
What do you think about this idea? How do you feel about Rick Riordan’s close involvement with the series’ production? What do you expect to see from a Percy Jackson show? Share your own thoughts, theories and opinions in the comments below!