POMPEII – The Review
Going into a film from the director of MORTAL KOMBAT, RESIDENT EVIL, and AVP: ALIEN VS. PREDATOR, one has to put aside any hope that POMPEII will be anything more than a mindless 3-D adventure. I mean . . . look at the title. The inevitable volcanic eruption is far from just hinted at in the advertising for the disaster flick. And while one could argue that the film is quite a bit late to the whole disaster film crazy unofficially reignited by Roland Emmerich, the film’s director seems to be a slave to a script that attempts to be much more than just the kitschy spectacle that the film’s title would imply.
POMPEII wants to have its dramatic cake and explode it too. The film takes itself way too seriously instead of embracing the ‘B-movie’ style that it should. For the first hour we are treated to the recycled story of a young boy being thrown into slavery and earning the approval of the common people. Milo, played by GAME OF THRONES veteran Kit Harington, unexpectedly falls in love with the princess of Pompeii (Emily Browning) while being transported to the city for gladiatorial combat. When we’re not witnessing him brooding in a cell or trying to avoid revealing his real name to his cell-mate, we are forced to witness some pseudo-political plot involving Carrie-Ann Moss, Jared Harris, and the truly unbelievable, Kiefer Sutherland. I say this only because he has reached a new level of unintentional goofiness that only Nicholas Cage can claim throne to. His sniveling one-note act as the obvious villain is at least entertaining partly due to his struggle to maintain an accent that seems inspired by Jeremy Irons’ “Simon” from DIE HARD: WITH A VENGEANCE even though it sometimes sounds like Val Kilmer doing Doc Holliday.
To properly critique Kit Harington’s performance would imply he actually delivers a performance; such is not the case. Harrington is consistently on-screen during much of the film’s duration, but I’m left to wonder if he really, truly was there. I can only assume his emotional range must have been eclipsed by all the hard work he put into achieving his six-pack abs – which clearly was more of a priority than anything else. His chemistry with Emily Browning is no better. This wouldn’t have been as much of an issue for me if POMPEII wanted to just be a fun, explosion filled ‘B-movie.’ However, it tries to reach the emotional heights of TITANIC while incorporating the epic journey that we have seen in SPARTACUS, CONAN THE BARBARIAN, and GLADIATOR (just to name a few of the films POMPEII liberally borrows from). Anderson, whose strength lies in creating spectacle rather than igniting our hearts seems far more comfortable once the films settles into the last act. I looked at my watch and it was past the hour mark before the real main “character” bursts forth from the screen. As you would expect, fires erupt and volcanic rocks are thrown at the screen. The visuals that accompany the final 25 minutes are occasionally entertaining and are even a bit brutal given the film’s PG-13 rating – we are treated to civilians set ablaze and characters frequently stabbed or impaled. But have no fear, barely a drop of blood is shed in all of the catastrophic proceedings. I guess it’s ok to simulate fear, death, and destruction but to show any real effects would not be Paul W.S. Anderson’s style.
The poster displays the tagline “No warning. No escape.” As evident by the several occurrences where characters react to loud rumblings and large cracks in their GGI environment, this is obviously not the case. There are clear warnings to the characters and yet they repeatedly stand still, looking up at the fiery beast as if they have a chance at beating it. As filmgoers, we too should heed to the warnings that accompany most of Paul W.S. Anderson’s disposable video-game flicks and run from the imminent danger. Run as fast as you can.