Spoiler alert: people die at the end of this. Kit Harington, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Browning and Kiefer Sutherland star in Pompeii.
Cast of Characters:
Milo – Kit Harington
Aurelia – Carrie-Anne Moss
Cassia – Emily Browning
Atticus – Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Ariande – Jessica Lucas
Severus – Jared Harris
Senator Corvus – Kiefer Sutherland
Director – Paul W. S. Anderson
Screenplay – Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler & Michael Robert Johnson
Producer – Jeremy Bolt, Paul W. S. Anderson, Robert Kulzer & Don Carmody
Rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences, disaster-related action and brief sexual content
In AD 79, Celtic slave-turned-gladiator Milo (Kit Harington) is a young, feisty warrior, simply nicknamed “The Celt”, good enough to take on five fighters all by himself. Shipped off to fight in the city of Pompeii, he meets and falls for Cassia (Emily Browning), the rich heiress of Aurelia (Carrie-Anne Moss) and Severus (Jared Harris), the latter being a tycoon-type that is trying to put Pompeii on the map. Think of him as an early AD version of Donald Trump, minus the combover.
With Rome’s Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) visiting the city, Severus is pulling out all the stops in hoping to gain investments toward his city projects. Corvus strikes a deal with Severus, looking to win his daughter’s hand in marriage in return. If that doesn’t rub Milo the wrong way, the fact that Corvus is the one responsible for slaughtering Milo’s family and people will.
Then the volcano explodes, people die, the end.
This is brought to us by Paul W. S. Anderson, a man who needs no introduction. His movies are crap, the one exception being Event Horizon, which started out promising then fell apart about halfway through. More recently, he’s known for being the man that took such a crap on The Three Musketeers it could’ve empowered Alexandre Dumas’s corpse to exchange spinning in his grave for crawling out of it and choking Anderson to death. That said, I wanted this to be good. I put money down to see it, so I figured I go in with low expectations and watch a volcano blow up and burn alive thousands of people.
Good news is we get that. Bad news is, holy hell, what a snooze-fest on the way there.
Pompeii is what happens when you take Titanic, mesh it with Dante’s Peak, sprinkle a dash of Gladiator on top, and then slap a big “No Fun Added” label on the front. Films like these are somewhat critic proof in a way. It’s supposed to be dumbed-down entertainment with hammy performances and atrocious dialogue. This isn’t meant to be a historical take on the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which made the city of Pompeii its bitch (the film still opens with a quote from Pliny the Younger, a witness of the event), so it’s not like I angrily stood up and screamed at the screen, “How dare you disrespect the victims of an event that happened 1,935 years ago!” It’s sword and sandals fighting for the first two-thirds of the film, followed by the mountain finally going “BOOM!!!!” at the end. There ya go. End of story. It just doesn’t get entertaining ’til that final act. That’s what’s wrong with this film.
Up until Anderson decides to shake things up a bit, or at least attempt to wake up any viewer that may have passed out halfway through the film, we get a love story that has no emotion and sword fights that have no thrills. Yeah, we were spared shaky-cam and slow-motion cam, but Anderson and his editing team still poorly edited the scenes in a way equivalent to someone carrying a 500 piece puzzle, dropping it on the floor, losing about 100 pieces, and then deciding to piece it back together anyway.
You can tell it’s trying desperately to be like those all-star disaster flicks from out of the ’70s (Airport, Earthquake and The Poseidon Adventure). The difference, though, is those films I just mentioned had characters and performers portraying them (Gene Hackman, Shelly Winters, Ernest Borgnine, Charlton Heston, etc.) that we could invest in. Here, we have one-note characters given one-note performances.
Kit Harington (from Game of Thrones) has a little bit more life than Kellan Lutz showed in The Legend of Hercules last month, but overall doesn’t embody a hero worth rooting for. Somebody should’ve told Emily Browning she was at least gonna get to collect a paycheck when this was all done, ’cause she earns a record for holding one emotionless expression longer than anyone else I’ve seen in film. Maybe it was that she felt the love angle between her and Harington was so hollow, she’d look the part. Veteran presences Carrie-Anne Moss (Trinity, where have you been?!) and Jared Harris have talent, but don’t get anything here to prove it again. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (playing Djimon Hounsou’s character from Gladiator) gets to have some small scene-chewing moments as the guy that spends the first half of the film arguing with Harington about who’s gonna kill who first, but then becomes his sidekick.
The one notable difference is Kiefer Sutherland. I’m not saying it’s a great performance. It’s horrendously over-the-top, and only made all the more perplexing by whatever accent it is he’s using. He’s not just scene-chewing here, but also mangling it like a lion ripping a gazelle apart. At least he’s doing what he can to keep me awake.
Once Mount Vesuvius finally erupts hellfire on all the villagers, it starts to get entertaining in a dumb disaster film sorta way. The effects aren’t mind-blowing, but they’re fun. The problem, though, is it’s only entertaining in sight. Since I come away not caring about any of the flat characters, the film misses out on bringing a sense of danger to the viewer. I really couldn’t care less if any of them survived. Apparently, neither did the characters ’cause in spite of the fact that there’s molten ash and lava rock being hurled at them, these morons still have to stop and have their sword fight so Milo can avenge his family.
Dude, they died years ago. Get over it, and get the hell out of there. You know what 1,292 °F feels like? It’s not like settling into a jacuzzi.
I know what you’re thinking. It’s not about the characters, it’s the action. Sure, then why waste the first hour trying to sell me on the characters?
This film wishes it could be a good, entertaining popcorn flick. It’s not. Even from a cheesy fun standpoint, Pompeii fails to bring any energy or sense of adventure for the first two acts. Combining that with a lifeless love story that even the most die-hard, doe-eyed romantic wouldn’t give a damn about makes it all the more dull. It’s visually fun once the third act shows up, but it takes its sweet time getting there so much, I ended up getting more excited by the fact that it meant the end was near. Not just for me, but for the people of Pompeii as well.
I give Pompeii a D+ (★½).
REVIEWS COMING LATER NEXT WEEK…
2/24/14 What the Hell Were They Thinking?!
2/25/14 Benjamin’s Stash