'Percy' engaging adventure for young audiences

As the "Harry Potter" franchise has slipped deeper and deeper into dark areas, studios have been trying to find a film series that is imaginative and smart enough for young audiences.

Movies like "The Spiderwick Chronicles," "The Golden Compass" and "The Chronicles of Narnia" came close but never showed the consistent spark of genius that made "Harry Potter" magical.

"Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief" fulfills that quest through the blend of likable central characters, the already fascinating world of Greek mythology and solid direction by Chris Columbus. This is the start of something that could be really good.

The film follows the same formula as "Harry Potter" - blending the mystical with the mortal to create a world-threatening situation that only three young warriors can stop.

Percy (Logan Lerman) becomes the focus of the wrath of the Greek gods when he is suspected of stealing the main lightning bolt from Zeus. While still trying to process that he is a demigod (the offspring of a god and mortal), Percy must wade into the world of the gods to save his mother and the planet.

He gets help from a wise-cracking guardian (Brandon T. Jackson) and a warrior demigoddess (Alexandra Daddario).

Columbus, who directed "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone," brings energy to this youth-oriented adventure. The director knows how to pace big special-effects sequences to keep the movie from lagging.

Craig Titley's take on Rick Riordan's popular book shows a dry sense of humor, including having Hades exist under Hollywood.

The weakest moments come from veteran actors Pierce Brosnan and Uma Thurman, who go so far over the top with their performances that they would sail high over Mount Olympus.

REVIEW: "Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief"

3 stars

STARRING: Logan Lerman, Brandon T. Jackson, Alexandra Daddario, Pierce Brosnan, Uma Thurman.

RATED: PG for action scenes

RUNNING TIME: 2 hours.