Only minutes later, Percy's mom is kidnapped, which ends up being a bargaining chip in the story later on. In the meantime, Percy begins his demigod boot camp for a mission involving that mysterious lighting bolt. Apparently someone has stolen it from Zeus (Sean Bean) and it needs to be returned to Olympus before the summer solstice—or the fate of the world is at stake, naturally.

While the movie's set-up is effective, it's the madcap journey where things really get interesting. Thanks to some great chemistry between the actors, you can't help rooting for them to succeed. Whether it's the run-in with Medusa (a terrific Uma Thurman, but it's the cool special effects that really steal the show) in New Jersey, a wild jaunt through Nashville's Parthenon (complete with winged Converse sneakers to help Percy fly) or the dangerous trek to meet Hades in the underworld (the portal is just below the Hollywood sign, a funny slice of serendipity, no?), Percy Jackson & the Olympians is an exhilarating adventure.

Unlike Harry Potter, it's considerably lighter, too. While similar themes of friendship, bravery and honesty emerge, there's a decidedly playful feel to the proceedings, even with the scary images and a few intense action scenes, the hallmark of a director who knows (and understands) his target audience.

And with the Harry Potter series winding down, the timing for Percy Jackson & the Olympians couldn't be better. Thankfully, these new kids (sure to be gracing the pages of Tiger Beat along with Zac Efron, Robert Pattinson and Taylor Lautner soon) fill Harry, Hermione and Ron's action-adventure shoes convincingly—and without a magic wand or spells to boot.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Percy's stepdad orders his mom to get him a beer. In Las Vegas, the lotus flower lulls Percy, Grover and Annabeth into a hypnotic trance meant to trap them. Before they're in danger too much, they're warned of the flowers' powers. 
  • Language/Profanity:  Three mild profanities (a--, dam-, he--) plus a couple of exclamations of God's name. 
  • Sex/Nudity:  There's a couple of shots of girls in skimpy bikinis at Camp Half Blood. The cocktail waitresses in Vegas also sport revealing attire. While in the underworld, Hades' wife Persephone, who amuses herself by having sexual flings with outsiders, sets her sights on Grover. 
  • Violence:  Early on, Percy believes his mother died when she's attacked and disappears (she was taken to the underworld). As Percy, Grover and Annabeth make their journey to Olympus, there are countless perilous situations that involve the sword fights, car chases, trying to swamp out the opponent with an impromptu flood, cutting off Medusa's head and running away from monsters that sprout two heads when you cut one off. 
  • Scary Images:  This movie is definitely for kids 10 and up, unless your younger children don't scare very easily. There are several scary creatures (one dragon-like creature that appears at Percy's school, Medusa with snakes springing forth from her head and an icy stare that turns people to stone, not to mention Hades' frightening transformation into the stereotypical devil-like character.  

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.