Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Writers: Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler, Michael Robert Johnson
Stars: Kit Harington, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland
Release date: February 21st, 2014
Distributors: TriStar Pictures, Film District
Running time: 104 minutes
Best part: Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje.
Worst part: Kiefer Sutherland.
Every year, Hollywood takes its worst creations and dumps them into particular months. These months, ranging from January to March depending on where you reside, sit between major film seasons. Released before or after the 12 Years a Slaves and Captain Americas have come and gone, these movies bare Hollywood’s most derided impulses. Pompeii, despite striving to escape critical and commercial bombs like Need for Speed and I, Frankenstein, is nowhere near as intelligent and entertaining as it wants to be.
Taking itself way too seriously, this historical epic raises its goblet to seminal blockbusters of its type. However, despite rising ever-so-slightly above the aforementioned turkeys, this is a dull, lifeless, and melodramatic action flick. Pompeii, from its sickly dark epilogue onward, wears its heart and intentions on its leather-and-metal-clad sleeves. Utilising the story’s factual elements, the movie strives to eek emotional reactions from its intended audience. Ignorantly, this sword-and-sandal pap is unaware of its audience’s age range and maturity level. In case the title was too vague, this actioner is based around one of ancient history’s most tragic events. The movie kicks off in 62 AD Britannia. A Celtic horse tribe is horrifically massacred by a Roman legion led by Senator Quintus Attius Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland). A young Celt, Milo, plays dead whilst watching his parents’ brutal murders. The movie jumps forward 20 years, and Milo (Kit Harington), swearing vengeance upon Corvus, has become a handsome adult and fearsome gladiator. Taken to the doomed city of Pompeii, Milo and his slave brethren must fight to entertain prestigious figures and cruel masters. After meeting heavenly Princess Cassia (Emily Browning), Milo is introduced to reigning champion Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje).
From there, the plot drifts off into several convoluted plot-strands and corny, dialogue-driven lulls. After reacquainting herself with her parents, city ruler Severus (Jarred Harris) and wife Aurelia (Carrie-Anne Moss), Cassia is pulled to Corvus’ side after his battalion is invited into the seaside city. Unfortunately, it’s this sector of Pompeii that crumbles quicker than the infamous Mt. Vesuvius. Sporting more laughable lines than intriguing twists, this historical epic’s political-drama shades become underdeveloped and unconvincing distractions. The political debates, defined by the screenplay’s formulaic characterisations and sketchy turns, add little more than titbits foreshadowing the explosive climax. Shoddily outlining the Roman Empire’s purpose, its rage-fuelled squabbles and insignificant agendas overwhelm this tiresome historical epic. Elevating Pompeii‘s entertainment value, the dialogue leaves little to the imagination. “Juno’s tit! Is all this your luggage?”, Severus asks as the servants carry Cassia’s cases into the villa. Obviously, unpopular director Paul W.S. Anderson (The Resident Evil franchise, Death Race) cares little for this part of Pompeii‘s dodgy narrative. Infatuated with 1960s Italian sword-and-sandal flicks and 80s disaster epics, Anderson’s frustrating action-direction and unimaginative flourishes hamper this dour extravaganza. With a hack director and untested screenwriters at this production’s disposal, Pompeii offers nothing but a blatant retread of Gladiator. Copying Ridley Scott’s invigorating style, W.S. Anderson steals exact sequences, directorial flourishes, and music cues from the 2000 hit action-adventure flick.
“For those of us about to die, we salute you, I die a free man!” (Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Pompeii).
Blinding this already ash-choked blockbuster, the performances slaughter anything left to salvage. Harington, known as John Snow in HBO hit series Game of Thrones, leaves his abdominal muscles and scornful expressions to carry this lead role. Browning and Moss deliver flat performances in damsel-in-distress roles. However, Sutherland’s foppish turn falls painfully flat. Delivering an elaborate Jeremy Irons impersonation, Sutherland’s graceless presence provides several unintentional laughs. Unfortunately, despite the outrageously over-the-top moments, the movie’s straight-faced facade keeps it from becoming even a guilty pleasure. If Pompeii‘s action sequences had been spectacular, it could’ve been an invigorating, popcorn-chomping surprise. Sadly, Anderson, fuelled by his short attention span and derivative style, is more lava than fighter here. Anderson, despite previously delivering bloodthirsty video-game adaptations (Alien vs. Predator) and violent thrillers (Event Horizon), creates incomprehensible and underwhelming sword-fights. Delivering a recreation of a notorious battle, this Gladiator-like sequence sums up the movie’s biggest flaws. Ruined by quick cuts and shaking cameras, stabs and swings are distorted. Eclipsed even by TV efforts like Game of Thrones and Spartacus: Blood and Sand, these bloodless and ineffectual sequences feel dated. However, I will give credit where it’s due. The special effects crew, boosting this uninspired and dreary final product, excel at creating glorious disaster sequences. The volcano’s gigantic explosions, meteoric debris, and toxic ash elevate the final third’s climactic chases and sword-fights. In addition, the tsunami sequence is the only part worth re-watching.
Pompeii, as the repulsive and simplistic lovechild of Gladiator and Titanic, lacks the might of its conquering mountainous setting. With Vesuvius given more development and depth than the attractive human characters, the apocalyptic final third overshadows the plodding and inconsistent build up. Unlike Volcano and Dante’s Peak, this volcanic disaster epic’s tiresome formula and woeful dramatic moments fail to ignite the viewer’s best interests.