“Pompeii” is a film all about the idea of loss. It is a film that highlights a powerful loss for one of the most powerful empires in history.
It is a film that has its character fighting a losing battle for their freedom, love and life. But more importantly, it is a film that will make the audience lose appreciation for two cinematic classics due to how shamefully this film steals everything from them.
The film follows Milo (Kit Harington, or as he is more commonly known, Jon Snow), a Britannia slave nicknamed “The Celt” who fights as a gladiator in Roman coliseums. As a boy Milo watched his tribe, including his parents, get viciously slaughtered by the Romans led by senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland). Now as an adult, Milo must not only fight for his freedom and revenge his people, but also fight for the freedom of Cassia (Emily Browning), the beautiful daughter of a political merchant who is also being pursued by Corvus. Naturally, we all know how this story will play out.
So it’s one of those rich girl falls for poor boy love story wrapped around a historical disaster, much like “Titanic,” while bloated with rejected scenes from “Gladiator” in order to stretch the amount of time before the volcano blows. This would not be a problem if it was at least competent work, but director Paul W.S. Anderson really does nothing to bring this film to life.
The fight scenes are not really original but they get the job done, almost to a comical degree, but the romance plot really just falls apart. Browning and Harington really have no chemistry here, and are just kind of awful in their roles. They still pale in comparison to Sutherland, who has to actively be trying to be a bad actor to reach the level he puts on display here.
If there were one saving grace it would be Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Mr. Eko from “Lost”), the veteran gladiator who is just one more fight from retirement. His character expresses opportunities to be really interesting, but Anderson seems intent on just keeping him as the black sidekick. Agbaje brings some charisma to this role at least, even when he has to rattle on about how he is the best slave.
But since this is “Pompeii,” the crux of the story is about the volcano and eventual destruction of the resort city. The film constantly cuts back to show environmental shots of the mountain as if to remind viewers that eventually the CGI will kick in. When the volcano does finally erupt, the film manages to spark something resembling the feeling of excitement, but it is still not interesting. In order for any of this to be actually interesting the film has to ensure we actually care if any of the characters survive.
Still, the visual destruction and chaos is a very gripping image that really demonstrates the kind of money backing these kinds of movies.
However, I cannot think of a single scene that this film did not borrow from “Titanic” or “Gladiator.” It is devoid of any originality, style or even life. It is especially confusing when you realize that both films it has so painstakingly Frankensteined together came out 13 years ago. So why do this now?
“Pompeii” is the type of movie that is bad, but I wish was worse. It is a film that takes some great ideas from other films and makes them seem terrible, but the visuals and promise of lava-fueled destruction lure you to continue watching.
It is the film equivalent of lettuce, sure it can sustain you on its own but you will want something else or more to go with it.