Synopsis: A slave-turned-gladiator finds himself in a race against time to save his true love, who has been betrothed to a corrupt Roman Senator. As Mount Vesuvius erupts, he must fight to save his beloved as Pompeii crumbles around him.
Stars: Kit Harington, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Browning, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jessica Lucas, Jared Harris, Kiefer Sutherland
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Running Length: 98 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: I remember reading reviews of Titanic back in 1997 when it was first released and thinking to myself, ‘Yeah, but what about when the boat sinks?’ James Cameron’s Oscar winning film benefited from the introduction of characters, plot, effects, and ideas that culminated in the famous sinking of the titular ocean liner which made it more than just a soggy retread of the popular disaster pictures of the 70’s. As a high school student still finding my critical legs, all I cared about was how the boat looked when it was sinking.
I mention Titanic because the makers of Pompeii clearly hatched their notion to retell the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius during a screening of Titanic when it was re-released in 3D a few years back. So instead of this being an all out disaster epic, it’s less about the lava and more about the love…and more’s the pity because even a trio of screenwriters can’t muster up a decent bit of dialogue that would help the audience pick someone, anyone, to root for. Yeah, you say, but what about the volcano?
I’ll get to it…trust me.
Opening with a factual quote from Pliny the Younger who had a firsthand account of the volcanic event, it’s pretty much fiction for the remainder of the film. A young boy is orphaned at the hand of a cruel Roman soldier (Kiefer Sutherland, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, Flatliners) and raised in slavery, becoming a gladiator along the way. So good at his craft that he’s brought to Pompeii to fight top gladiator Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Thor: The Dark World) he has the misfortune to arrive not only at the very moment Vesuvius cracks open but also to fall in love with a member of Pompeii’s upper crust (Emily Browning, Sucker Punch). Ok, you say, good to know…but what about that volcano?
For the next hour there’s a lot of speechifying by braggadocios, both political and civilian, none of which has the least to do with the fate that awaits nearly everyone within Pompeii’s walls and harbor villages. The love story is paper thin and too much time is spent introducing secondary characters that are merely there to push our leads out of the way of falling rocks before meeting their ends shortly thereafter. Ah, you say, I understand…but what about the acting?
Wait, what? The acting? Well…I was just getting to that…
Browning comes off the best of the bunch…though here is another movie set in an Italian speaking country where everyone has (or attempts to have) a British accent. Harington impresses solely on his first entrance, exiting the shadows and preceded by his eight pack abs which is probably why the film is being released in 3D. Jared Harris (Lincoln) and Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix) are wet noodles as Browning’s parents and poor Jessica Lucas (That Awkward Moment, Evil Dead) is barely an afterthought. Sutherland makes zero effort to do anything special here…which is too bad because he’s a more than capable of playing a nasty bad guy. Between his non period Jack Bauer haircut and UK accent by way of Billings, Montana (when he bothers to use one at all), he’s incredibly miscast here.
So the volcano…
It erupts pretty spectacularly and provides several opportunities for actors to outrun fireballs, tidal waves, and clouds of ash…but not the inevitable. The volcano blowing its top is kinda worth the wait and kinda not because so much filler has weighed the film down before its arrival. It’s the best visual effect in the film, with other moments coming off with badly rendered CGI.
Director Paul W.S. Anderson has four Resident Evil films under his belt as well as a host of other bombastic films with a sci-fi slant (Event Horizon is a guilty pleasure of mine) so he’d seem a natural choice to helm a disaster epic…but he merely moves the pieces around without ever bringing them together in a memorable way. Pompeii isn’t a total wash of a film but, like the city of its title, it’s gone in an instant.