The eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the subsequent destruction of the city of Pompeii have long-held the fascination for the general public since the city’s rediscovery in 1599. Being one of the most romanticized archeological sites due to the fantastic nature of the event it was only a matter of time that the last days of Pompeii took center stage in a big budget motion picture. In the aptly named Pompeii, Director Paul W.S. Anderson (of Resident Evil fame) takes a crack the world’s most notorious natural disaster.
Pompeii tells the story of a young man (Kit Harrington) forced into Gladiatorial servitude after the brutal massacre of his people at the hands of a morally corrupt Roman Senator. After finding fame in Rome as undefeated warrior, “The Celt,” the young man is quickly relocated to the ill-fated city of Pompeii were he is to be one of the main attractions for the festivities of the Vulcanalia. Upon the journey, which could only be best described as a drudge, the shackled band of slaves are passed by the carriage of a lady of means named Cassia. In true Hollywood fashion Cassia’s carriage hits a pothole injuring one of its horses. Luckily, The Celt is of a well-known tribe of horseman and he quickly leaps into action to emotionally scar the audience for life. The two emotionally connect, an interest is kindled, and the two quickly begin to make mooneyes at each other. The two will cross paths many times creating a bond strong enough for the Celt to risk everything to endeavor to save his willowy love from a city in flames.
Though touted as a romance in the films trailer and on its posters, Pompeii reads more as a devil’s three-way between Gladiator/ Titanic/ and The Day After Tomorrow. Taking heavy influence from the popularity of shows like Spartacus and Rome, so much so, that Pompeii quickly makes haste to assure that it can pack as many tropes of the genre into the first hour as possible: A buff gladiator main character who spends most of his time brooding to assure the audience that he has a lot of “feels” and is really just a softy on the inside? Check. An over-the-top villainous Roman leader who takes instant personal offense to said brooding hero? Check. Lovely ingénue of privilege whom instantly falls for the main character’s inner beauty and outer hottie? Check. Former adversary who quickly becomes a valuable ally? Check. There is, in fact, very little in the film’s thin plot to offer anything truly unique or surprising. It is Mount Vesuvius itself, which provides the only genre delineation creating an expected, yet interesting, plot twist breaking up the gladiatorial monotony in favor of a full on end of the world disaster flick.
Fresh off success as Jon Snow in the mega hit Game of Thrones, Harrington is currently a hot commodity, and yet he spends very little of the film acting. What little dialogue Harrington does have is stilted and flat. Instead, Harrington offers an endless supply of his patented “Confused Husky” looks, which surprisingly can be used as a response to a myriad of situations. It leaves one wondering if the young Harrington lacks the chops to carry a picture or more likely, he is simply stuck in that acting purgatory of type casting and has yet to break out of the shadow of Thrones with a complex and worthy character.
And yet Harrington’s stilted dialog is an absolute joy is comparison to the film’s most surprising disappointment, Kiefer Sutherland, who puts in a wildly over the top turn as the Roman senator Corvus. the antagonist of the story and Harrington’s romantic competition. Corvus is really little more than a one-note wonder the stereotypical evil Roman for a lust for women, wealth, and power. Playing a villain shouldn’t be difficult for Sutherland who honed his being scary skills as the steely Jack Bauer, and yet Sutherland completely misses the mark as a Roman general by providing too much of a distraction with his odd accent and weirdly hypnotic veneers. It is nearly impossible to tear yourself away from the man’s teeth as each time he opens his mouth to speak it sounds as if he is desperately trying to keep them from falling out. If that weren’t bad enough his character is so contrived that one expects him to take a cue from Snidely Whiplash and curl his moustache (if he had one) while laughing evilly.
Still that is not to say that Pompeii isn’t without pleasantries. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje steals the show as the battle hardened Atticus who is one fight away from being awarded his freedom according to Roman law. Providing much-needed levity, Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s one-liners and charm provide great entertainment
Emily Browning plays to her strengths as the headstrong love interest caught between the unwanted affection of Senator Corvus and her newly kindled passion for the Celt. The relationship between Cassia and her parents (played by the superb Jared Harris and the lovely as always Carrie-Anne Moss) is arguably the most dynamic but Browning suffers like all her costars from an underdeveloped character. Still it is always pleasant to see Ms. Browning on screen and Pompeii is no different.
The true star of Pompeii however, is Anderson’s uncanny ability to create some of the most beautifully choreographed and visually stunning violence for the big screen. His love of flashy visuals and well time devastation make it easy to look past the films weaknesses and simply enjoy feast of sights and sounds. The 3D also added a welcome sense of gravity as the characters frustrating and incessant need to stop look around, chat, or get into fights often left the viewer wondering if these people could actually see the giant mountain crumbling to pieces flinging giant balls of fiery death and doom at them.
In all honesty, Pompeii may of well have been titled, “try and outrun a volcano” and feels like little more than a lesson in futility. Yet, despite this the film manages to retain enough humor, charm, and badass action to make the film more than palatable. Pompeii is at its core a mostly pleasant way to kill a couple of hours with Kit Harrington’s abs and a nice reminder that you have been meaning to Wikipedia Pompeii for sometime now.
Rating: 7 out of 11
About the movie:
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.
Company: FilmDistrict, TriStar Pictures
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Carrie-Anne Moss, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kiefer Sutherland
Runtime: 98 mins
Releases: Feb 21st 2014