Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Intense Battle Sequences, Disaster-Related Action and brief Sexual Content
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Written by: Jane Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler & Michael Robert Johnson
Starring: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Carrie-Anne Moss, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jessica Lucas, Jared Harris, Joe Pingue, Kiefer Sutherland, Currie Graham & Sasha Roiz
If POMPEII had come out in the late 90’s, people would have gone crazy for it! I say this, because the film is basically GLADIATOR by way of TITANIC with a volcanic disaster midway through. Director Paul W.S. Anderson isn’t known for making good cinema. He is known for screwing up a crossover between two beloved monsters with AVP, messing up two high-profile video game adaptations with MORTAL KOMBAT and RESIDENT EVIL, butchering a lame remake with a potentially cool idea in 2008’s DEATH RACE, and making a travesty of Alexandre Dumas’s THREE MUSKETEERS. In fact, EVENT HORIZON (his second film) is his best work to date. POMPEII could have been a terrible film and all indications were that it was heading that way. Some way, somehow, the film works very well. It doesn’t feel like a Paul W.S. Anderson movie and is the best film I wound up seeing at the theaters this weekend (which included 3 DAYS TO KILL and NON-STOP).
Beginning in 62 A.D., we see a band of Roman soldiers wipe out a tribe of Celts. A young boy, named Milo, witnesses the massacre and pretends to be dead in order to avoid being slaughtered. Things don’t fare well for a lone child out in the wilderness and he’s sold into slavery. The film moves forward 17 years and we see that Milo has carved out a name for himself as a vicious gladiator. Through mere chance, Milo is brought to the grand city of Pompeii where he finds love in a high-class girl, evil in a corrupt Roman senator from his past, a friend in his gladiator opponent, and possible annihilation in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius…
We’ve seen the storylines that POMPEII has to offer in other films. The romance angle in TITANIC. The tale of revenge and gladiators in the aptly titled GLADIATOR. Even the volcanic destruction in the silly disaster flick VOLCANO. Combining these three plotlines makes for a familiar film that winds up being pretty enjoyable. It’s not as if the predictable nature doesn’t exist, but the familiar tropes actually make for a more satisfying experience. Not every film has to be important. Sometimes, you want to sit down and munch through big bucket of popcorn while being entertained. This is what the blend of three well-known genres, POMPEII, does surprisingly well.
As far as the cast goes, there are some familiar faces here playing roles you wouldn’t expect from them. Kit Harington (GAME OF THRONES) plays the unrealistically handsome gladiator and gives a decent enough performance with this role. I didn’t dislike him and that’s a feat in itself, because pretty boy roles usually grate on my nerves. Emily Browning (Babydoll from the underrated SUCKER PUNCH) is quite good as the royal love-interest Cassia. Again, this kind of throw-away role usually annoys me to no end, but Browning makes it work. Carrie-Anne Moss (THE MATRIX) and Jared Harris (SHERLOCK HOLMES: A GAME OF SHADOWS) make a convincing couple, which is another unexpected surprise. Meanwhile, Kiefer Sutherland chews the scenery like it’s going out style. Maintaining a stiff upper lip and a cocky demeanor, Sutherland practically begs the viewer to jump through the screen and deliver a punch to his face. Perhaps the key to making all of these well-known character types enjoyable to watch is that the actors made the most of what they were given and that benefitted the film greatly!
Spectacle is what makes POMPEII really worth watching, because the effects are awesome. There is a great atmosphere and the costumes look convincing for the set time period. It never felt like I was watching actors on a sound stage or people pretending in front of a green screen. I would actually rank the atmosphere up there with (though the entire film is nowhere near as a good as) 300. The disaster sequences are beyond cool. We see everything around the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, including tidal waves, earthquakes, raining ash, and fiery pieces of death falling from the sky. It takes a while to actually work up to the disaster sequences, but everything leading up to that point is entertaining as well.
This is not to say that there aren’t silly moments or over-the-top scenes though. Kiefer Sutherland is basically hamming it up in his villain role, but there’s something so inherently fun about watching him play a moustache-twirling baddie (with the absence of an actual moustache). I give the movie points for the ending, but some people may see it as really corny. Rest assured, it’s cheesy, but it fits in with everything else the film had delivered thus far.
In the right hands, there is an astounding cinematic achievement to be made out of Pompeii. Paul W.S. Anderson is not the kind of filmmaker that can create such a thing. To his credit, this is his second-best film (faint praise, I know) and doesn’t feel like the stereotypical Anderson let-downs that audiences are used to seeing. It’s a fun ride and works just as well as a clichéd romance. We’ve seen these tales told before (in better films, no less), but POMPEII is a good movie and I will defend it against the many detractors that it has already received. This one comes (surprisingly) recommended!