Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kiefer Sutherland, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jared Harris
You know the story, as set forth by Pliny the Younger: Boy meets girl. They fall in love. Girl is threatened by Jack Bauer. Boy kills many people. Mountain explodes. Ah, the classics.
Inviting certain expectations thanks to its very title, Paul W.S. Anderson’s Pompeii takes its own sweet time before anything disaster-y happens. A full two-thirds of the film has passed before Vesuvius finally erupts. We spend that time watching a lightweight Gladiator clone, as Celtic slave-turned-gladiator Milo (Harington) proves he’s the best fighter around, while capturing the fancy of nobleman’s daughter Cassia (Browning) who in turn tries to fend off the vile Roman senator Corvus (Sutherland). It’s all by-the-numbers, and echoes more than a little of Ridley Scott’s vastly superior swords-and-sandals epic, the similarities only making this one seem even more anemic by comparison.
During a prolonged battle sequence in the Pompeii arena, where Milo has the chance to get his revenge on the men who a long time ago slaughtered his family and tribe, the smouldering volcano finally lets loose, spewing smoke and molten rock over the surroundings. This is the fun part of the picture, as the eruption rains fiery destruction over the entire city, while the accompanying earthquakes cause a big tsunami to drown those lucky enough to escape the lava.
While all hell breaks lose, Milo braves the mayhem in order to rescue Cassia from the evil senator (and, of course, the ongoing natural disaster), while simultaneously getting his revenge. So while lava and ashes rain down, we are treated to a series of swordfights as well as a chariot-race through disintegrating streets.
Pompeii is a straight action flick with a natural disaster tacked on as a backdrop for the romance-and-revenge storyline. And by all means, that’s okay, but the main storyline is too generic to really engage, meaning that for a disaster genre fan it’s a rather long wait for the volcano action to get going.
Anderson does know his way around a blockbuster, however, so it is all slick and technically well produced, but predictable and bland. As for the actors, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje has a certain gravitas as the gladiator Atticus (pretty much the most integresting character in the film), while Harington and Browning, assisted by a weak script, fail to make the romance ignite.
The disaster scenes, on the other hand, are big and noisy and look quite good, and once they arrive we do get a decent amount of bang for our bucks. The CGI is obvious but still well done and the destruction of Pompeii does have a certain grandeur to it. Unfortunately, the preceding two-thirds of the film are too lukewarm to motivate a higher rating.