Movie Review: 'Pompeii'
Published: Friday, February 21, 2014
Updated: Friday, February 21, 2014 01:02
At one point before a giant gladiator fight in “Pompeii” — one of many gory scenes in the movie — a character exclaims that all that needs to be done is showcase “a simple, bloody spectacle.” Perhaps if the film had followed its own advice, it would have been, if not a great film, at least an enjoyable one. However, spectacular special effects and effective action scenes cannot buoy a sinking ship of wooden acting, an awkward script and an overburdened plot.
“Pompeii” follows the story of Milo (Kit Harington of “Game of Thrones” fame), a muscular Celtic gladiator captured at a young age and shipped from Britannia to Pompeii to fight in the arena. Seeing his parents killed by Senator Corvis (Kiefer Sutherland) at an early age turns Milo into a dour, brooding man. Harington plays his character without a hint of humor, continually wearing his patented “Jon Snow” scowl. As he enters Pompeii, he happens to bump into Cassia (Emily Browning), a beautiful young lady returning from her time in Rome. Naturally, they quickly fall in love, though the film does not really elucidate on the details. Corvis arrives at Pompeii at the same time, demanding Cassia’s hand and creating an uninspiring love triangle.
Although the romance never clicks, as Milo and Cassia struggle with a general lack of chemistry, the film does showcase a much better duo: Milo and Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a tough gladiator on the verge of gaining his freedom. The scenes between these two imprisoned slaves are the only places where the movie is allowed to breathe, with glimpses of humor. It is telling that Milo first reveals his name (and his personality) not to Cassia, but to Atticus.
The fun begins when the gladiators enter the arena. Here, director Paul W.S. Anderson, who has worked on “Resident Evil” and “The Three Musketeers”, showcases his one true strength: action sequences. One particularly exhilarating and memorable set piece includes two fighters warding off a legion of at least 50 men. Though the movie features a seemingly endless supply of fighting scenes, they do offer a respite from the painful romance or the backroom politics featuring the villain Corvis, who is unsympathetic and cruel to the point of exhaustion.
All of this happens under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. Anderson never lets us forget the impending doom faced by Pompeii, interspersing shots of the magma bubbling within the volcano with glimpses of the mountain constantly in the background of the drama. Yet, this incessant reminder of what is to come only diminishes our interest in the characters and the plots that form the majority of the movie. Anderson appears to be eagerly looking forward to the volcanic doom, but forgets to make us care at all about the individuals that are affected by the catastrophe.
When the volcano finally erupts, the movie showcases its one other striking feature: special effects. The ash plumes billowing over the city are devastating to behold, and the crumbling buildings evoke a realistic sense of fear. Watching the movie in 3-D adds surprisingly little to the proceedings; in fact, in bringing the falling ash to the foreground, the audience’s view of the movie is obscured.
Though the volcano never left our minds in the beginning of the movie, it feels almost like an afterthought in the end, dwarfed by the other, less interesting subplots crafted in the first two-thirds of the film. The eruption merely adds a feeling of grandiosity that the complacent plot does not deserve.
The best summation of “Pompeii” is that nothing about it feels original. The setting is reminiscent of “Gladiator,” the violence reminds the audience of “300,” the romance evokes a poor imitation of “Titanic” and the special effects appear drawn from any number of Hollywood franchise films. In all these aspects, it surpasses no previous film, and, apart from the special effects and action sequences, fails to provide real entertainment even without comparison to other movies.