2014, PG-13, 105 mins.
2014, PG-13, 105 mins.
Kit Harington as Milo / Emily Browning as Cassia / Kiefer Sutherland as Corvus / Carrie-Anne Moss as Aurelia / Rebecca Eady as Milo's Mother / Jared Harris as Severus
Diected by Paul W.S. Anderson / Written by Janet Scott Batchler and Lee Batchler
word of a lie: POMPEII is the only film that I can recall sitting
through in all of my ten years as a critic that elicited slow, sarcastic
clapping from the audience as its end credits rolled by.
Verbal booing and hissing was also heard by yours truly, but you
just know that it takes a special kind of wretched filmgoing experience to allow
viewers to get – how shall I say it – creative in expressing their displeasure.
if you allow me the opportunity for a bad historical pun, really blows.
It is, as its title would clearly suggest, based on the ancient
Roman town-city that was destroyed and buried under nearly twenty feet of
ash from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD.
It’s also directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who has made such
schlock ‘n awe flicks like DEATH RACE,
ALIENS VS. PREDATOR, and THE
THREE MUSKETEERS, which would further suggest just the type of movie one
would expect from POMPEII going in based on his credit.
Like most examples on his resume, POMPEII is another Anderson film
where the actors/characters are essentially cardboard cutout props that
are held hostage by the film’s action and visual effects. And when
Anderson is not throwing up eye candy on screen, we have to hear
groan inducing dialogue that makes us wish that Vesuvius would erupt
sooner as opposed to later.
takes place just before the rather famous eruption as we are introduced to
a young gladiator Milo (GAME OF THRONES' Kit Harrington), who, as a child,
witnessed the murder of his parents by the cruel and despotic Roman General
Corvis (Kiefer Sutherland, embarrassingly all over the map here).
As Milo grew up, so did his thirst for ultimate comeuppance, but
his efforts are really stymied by the fact that he’s sold into slavery, but while there he develops his skills as a truly
lethal warrior. As an adult,
Milo is eventually sent to Pompeii to participate in their gladiatorial
games and hoping, in the process of winning, to become a free man.
Another fellow gladiator, Atticus (the awesomely imposing Adewale
Akinnuoye-Agbaje, the only actor giving the film a forceful pulse of
interest) also wishes to become a free man, even if it means killing Milo
(his newfound confidant) in battle.
manages to attract the attention of Cassia (Emily Browning), who is
daughter of Pompeii ruler Severus (Jared Harris, bringing some class to a
relatively classless film). She
becomes really smitten with the hunky fighter when he displays his horse
whispering skills while…um…breaking one injured horse’s neck quickly to
spare the animal's suffering (in the oddest meet-cute perhaps…ever).
Any attempt by Milo to woe and charm Cassia over is made thornier
by the re-appearance of Corvis back in his life, whom now has become a
borderline insane senator that wants Cassia all to himself, which would, in
turn, have great political ramifications for her father.
While all of this is transpiring, Vesuvius begins to ominously
rumble in the background, which is initially brushed off by most in
Pompeii, but when it explodes and begins raining fire and debris
throughout the city, naïve compliancy turns into panic really, really
is kind of unrelentingly and unintentionally…dumb, and not in a big,
bold, old fashioned disaster film kind of way.
It tries, I think, to marry handpicked elements from films like
GLADIATOR and TITANIC - with perhaps a
bit more appropriation of the latter – with laughably half-baked
results. If Anderson and his
writers were attempting to mould POMPEII as a swords and sandals
version of TITANIC, then they certainly have failed in the avenue of
forging a tangibly moving and involving core romance in the film.
Milo and Cassia become soulmates in the film mostly at the
script’s desire; the actors themselves don’t provide so much as a kernel of
chemistry to even modestly imply that these two doomed people should be
not that Harrington and Browning are not decent enough and engaging
actors, per se (Harrington looks like the love child of Orlando Bloom and
Eric Bana and has the façade of a leading man, whereas Browning looks
fetching in period garb). Regrettably,
they are hopelessly called upon to perform in scene after scene of
cockamamie melodrama that makes the love story in the TWILIGHT films feel
like Shakespeare by comparison. Note
to other filmmakers: If you want to make a big budget historical romance,
make us like and ultimately care about the lovers.
When Vesuvius erupts, I found myself caring virtually little about
whether Milo and Cassia make it out in one piece.
The film provides very few incentives for us to give a hoot about
Milo and Cassia, which is its ultimate undoing.
All Anderson and company seem to care about is that dang mountain
of which, the effects showcasing the mighty eruption are competently handled and mange to make respectful usage of the 3D (it
should be noted that this is the fourth time that Anderson has shot a film
with 3D cameras for 3D consumption, which is a far cry better than hastily
retrofitting a 2D film to 3D). And, yes, even though sound stages in Toronto, Ontario double for Pompeii, the illusion is fairly seamless.
The action sequences themselves also manage to have a welcome
clarity that many hyperactively edited scenes from modern films lack
(granted, since POMPEII is PG-13, the violence is rather incredulously
bloodless considering the mayhem portrayed on screen).
At least we have Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje leading the charge in
many of these sequences with a teeth-clenched and biceps bulging swagger
that makes him such an animalistic presence to help sell even the most
limp-wristed of action beats.
though, POMPEII is a film of all mindless sound and fury that contains a
woefully generic and paint-by-numbers love story that will have many
viewers checking their watches with too much frequency.
When I wasn’t rolling my eyes at the inert romance that centers
the film, I was slapping my knee at Sutherland’s feeble miscasting as
the main antagonist, who appears to have adhered to some sort of Bizarro
school of period film method acting before showing up on set.
He’s not the most insidiously awful aspect of POMPEII; the final image
in the film is a real hum-dinger. As
Vesuvius wreaks its destructive power over the defenseless citizens of
Pompeii we witness bodies being turned into frozen ash sculptures.
Two in particular are shown in the final shot that tries to achieve
a level of heartbreaking poignancy, but instead inspires many mocking
No wonder the audience I was with gave this film a rather unique applause send-off when it faded to black.