Review – Pompeii

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Paul W.S. Anderson’s CGI-fuelled swords and sandals disaster flick really ain’t fooling around in its obsequiousness.

There's a potentially exciting and engaging film to be made about the tragic events that befell the city of Pompeii in AD79. This isn't it

There’s a potentially exciting and engaging film to be made about the tragic events that befell the city of Pompeii in AD79. This isn’t it

Although written by human beings, Pompeii‘s script and narrative structure could just as easily have been the product of a computer algorithm generated from the storylines of Gladiator, Spartacus, Quo Vadis and about a dozen other Roman epics, as well as Titanic and Romeo and Juliet (and a raft of others no doubt).

That in itself isn’t necessarily a death sentence, but when you’ve got Kiefer Sutherland putting on the worst English accent since Kevin Costner gave a stab in Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves then it’s time to pour molten lava on proceedings.

Milo, aka The Celt (Kit Harrington) forms a firm friendship with fellow slave Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) in Pompeii

Milo, aka The Celt (Kit Harrington) forms a firm friendship with fellow slave Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) in Pompeii

In fact, it says rather too much about Pompeii that the most convincing character in the movie is angry old Mt Vesuvius, which can’t blow its top quickly enough, frankly.

The film follow Milo, aka ‘The Celt’ (Kit Harrington), who as a young lad witnessed the murder of his parents and fellow villagers by Roman General Corvus (Sutherland) before being kidnapped by slave traders and transported years later from Britannia (where it’s always raining – how original) to Pompeii.

Slave Milo (Kit Harrington) embarks on a forbidden romance with Roman girl Cassia (Emily Browning) in Pompeii

Slave Milo (Kit Harrington) embarks on a forbidden romance with Roman girl Cassia (Emily Browning) in Pompeii

There he befriends fellow slave Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and catches the eye of the rebellious Cassia (Emily Browning), daughter of city ruler Severus (Jared Harris) and his wife Aurelia (Carrie-Anne Moss). When Corvus – now a Roman Senator – sails into Pompeii, Milo senses an opportunity to finally realise his long held desire for revenge. However, the small matter of an erupting volcano threatens to spoil everything.

Anderson is best known for directing the Resident Evil franchise, which is appropriate because Pompeii effectively turns into a computer game once Vesuvius erupts. The film could hardly be credited with depth, but it truly jumps the shark during a ridiculous chase scene involving a horse and chariot that would have had Charlton Heston spinning in his gun-lined coffin.

Pantomime villain Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) in Pompeii

Pantomime villain Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) in Pompeii

The romance between Milo and Cassia simply doesn’t work, which is a shame as Harrington and Browning at least try to inject some chemistry. A better bond is created between Milo and Atticus, whose initial rivalry and subsequent friendship is the best part of the film, especially during the gladiatorial scenes which allow Milo the opportunity to exact some humiliation on the evil Corvus.

Much like any other disaster film, you’re left twiddling your thumbs before the money shot finally arrives (just in case we’ve forgotten it’s coming, we have Atticus to helpfully point out that the regular pre-eruption tremors are just “the mountain” and nothing to worry about).

Mt Vesuvius gets angry in Pompeii

Mt Vesuvius gets angry in Pompeii

When Vesuvius finally does erupt, it at least does so with impressive style, but it doesn’t take long before boredom sets in once again and you’re hoping a fireball will take out most of the cast. Besides, anyone who’s seen the overly extended trailer will know exactly what to expect.

One suspects that Anderson’s tongue was wedged firmly in his cheek judging by the film’s histrionic tone and Sutherland’s pantomime performance, but that doesn’t forgive the sheer tedium of what’s on display here.

There’s a potentially exciting and engaging film to be made about the tragic events that befell the city of Pompeii in AD79. This isn’t it.

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29 comments

  1. CouchKurisu · May 9, 2014

    Doesn’t look like I’ll be bothering with this one, I feel like I’ve already seen this a hundred times. Nice review though, thanks for saving me a cinema ticket!

  2. Consumed by Film · May 10, 2014

    I haven’t seen Pompeii, but it seems we’ve come a long way since Anderson’s excellent Event Horizon, a long way down. Brilliant read mate!

    Adam.

    • Three Rows Back · May 10, 2014

      Thanks a lot buddy. That’s definitely his high watermark. I’ll be honest, I kinda don’t mind the Resident Evil movies. Probably shouldn’t admit that.

      • Consumed by Film · May 11, 2014

        Not gonna lie – I haven’t even seen them! Perhaps now is as good a time as any to change that…

      • Three Rows Back · May 13, 2014

        I wouldn’t blame you if you hated them! I’m probably in the minority.

  3. davecrewe · May 10, 2014

    Great review – I expect it’s more entertaining than the film was!

    • Three Rows Back · May 10, 2014

      Ha ha, thanks! You’ve gotta see the funny side of these things.

  4. mikeyb @ screenkicker · May 10, 2014

    This sounds like the most clichéd film ever! And nice use of the word obsequiousness 🙂

  5. Robert · May 10, 2014

    Kudos for getting through this, I shut it off after about 15 minutes.

  6. Monkeyboy · May 10, 2014

    I don’t know why, but I didn’t mind this one. I think for a number of reasons… 1. I normally hate Paul WS Anderson movies, so my expectations were very low. 2. I have a lot of time for Sutherland, Browning, and Harrington (not to mention Harris and Moss). 3. Anderson didn’t put his wife in the movie. And 4, most of the Anderson cliches were absent: bullet time, and corridors with traps in them. It’s a lot better than his Musketeers film.

    So, I’m afraid I’ll have to disagree. 🙂

    • Three Rows Back · May 10, 2014

      Fair enough; glad you got more out of it than I did. I have a lot of time for those actors, but they had nothing to work with. You’re right, most of his clichés were missing; he just replaced them with other cliches!

  7. Popcorn Nights · May 10, 2014

    Wow first Transcendence and now this? You are really putting yourself through the mill! I doubt I’ll bother with this, it sounds pretty bad.

  8. ckckred · May 10, 2014

    Nice review. Reading this makes me glad I’ve seen zero Paul W. S. Anderson movies.

  9. CMrok93 · May 10, 2014

    Good review. Hate to put it like this, but it only got better once the volcano erupted and, well, you know what happens next. I’m a morbid human being, what can I say?

  10. ruth · May 13, 2014

    Oh, it’s by Paul W.S. Anderson? No surprise it’s rubbish then. Having been to Pompeii a few years ago, I think that trip’d still be a far moving experience than watching this movie!

    • Three Rows Back · May 13, 2014

      I imagine you’d be correct Ruth! Always wanted to visit there.

  11. Tom · May 14, 2014

    Very excellent review sir, I gotta concur. This movie’s conception is pretty damn lame. I did like the spectacle aspect but it was so contrived and the story served like a slave to the eruption sequence. A pretty shameless movie. That said, for the generic writing that was in abundance, I think I can name some others that have been even stinkier than this. . .

    • Three Rows Back · May 18, 2014

      Thanks my friend. It had the potential to be truly shocking; instead it was just silly. The eruption, when it finally comes, is actually pretty well handled. Then it got silly again.

  12. Terry Malloy's Pigeon Coop · May 14, 2014

    I can’t say I’m massively surprised this is terrible to be honest! It still does my head in that they’ve called him The Celt, which just sounds like a total riff off the whole Spaniard thing from Gladiator. Top review as always though Mark!

    • Three Rows Back · May 18, 2014

      Cheers buddy. I thought that; did they have nicknames for *every* Gladiator?!

  13. Nostra · May 14, 2014

    Ouch, I actually was expecting this one to be bad and decided to stay away from it. Seems like a good decision!

  14. The Critical Cinephile · May 20, 2014

    Just thinking about this film makes me shudder. I’m perfectly content reading your enjoyable review over subjecting myself to the absurdity of Pompeii the film.

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