Pompeii may have razor-thin characters and the least-convincing romance of the past few years, but one thing it is not is boring. As sort of a cross between Dante’s Peak, Gladiator, and Titanic, it blows up people and ancient architecture as efficiently as any disaster movie could. There are plenty of camp moments and a truly entertaining, over-the-top turn for Kiefer Sutherland as an evil Roman Senator. It will never be referred to as high art, but it does deliver what can be reasonably expected of a buried February release.
The story kicks off in 65 A.D. during the Roman massacre of the Celts. A boy at the time, Milo (Harington) is the lone survivor. He is captured, sold into slavery, and now fights as a gladiator. Twelve years later, during the long trek to Pompeii, he crosses paths with Cassia (Browning), the daughter of a wealthy merchant. It’s love at first sight, but the evil Roman Senator (Sutherland) responsible for the deaths of Milo’s family has designs on marrying Cassia and investing in Pompeii’s infrastructure. All of that comes to a head when Mount Vesuvius erupts and Milo finds himself in a race against time to find and save Cassia.
Light on anything resembling characterization and featuring a romance that has fewer sparks than a night-old fire, director Paul W.S. Anderson and his screenwriters are far more concerned with bloody gladiator battles and decimating Pompeii with fireballs. If you’ve signed up for the latter, you won’t be disappointed as the visual effects are very good and the film hardly ever comes up for air. It’s an impressive spectacle, even if our hearts aren’t with what should be an emotional ending. The acting is sub-par all around, but saved by a so-bad-it’s-good turn by Kiefer Sutherland as a most insufferable elitist bastard. It’s ham by the pound. Harington and Browning generate very little chemistry and spend most of the film either stone-faced or shocked as they dodge walls of fire.
It’s sword-and-sandals season at the movies with this, The Legend of Hercules, and the upcoming 300: Rise of an Empire. Pompeii is certainly superior to the former, delivering the destructive goods against the background of a real-life tragedy. Calling it “good” may be a stretch, but it’s never a bore and seems remarkably comfortable with simultaneously destroying Pompeii and your senses – with the requisite unintentional hilarity thrown in for good measure, of course.
Studio: TriStar Pictures
Length: 102 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense battle sequences, disaster-related action and brief sexual content.
Theatrical Release: February 21, 2014
Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Written by: Janet Scott Batchler & Lee Batchler & Michael Robert Johnson
Cast: Kit Harington, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Browning, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jessica Lucas