Infamous for his zombie apocalyptic Resident Evil franchise, it’s fitting that Paul W.S. Anderson’s latest effort, Pompeii, is a bit of a disaster — and only one way was it intentional.
Pompeii is very loosely based on the Roman city Pompeii that was destroyed by Mount Vesuvius’ eruption in 79 AD. Perhaps thinking the story of a city being covered in ash and coated with lava wasn’t exciting enough, Anderson adds another action element of a gladiator trying to save his would-be love from an evil Roman senator.
After witnessing his family’s death at the hands of Romans as a young boy, Milo (Kit Harrington, Game of Thrones) has matured into a nearly unstoppable gladiator with little time for personal connections to anyone save horses that remind him of his childhood. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Bullet to the Head) has a fun supporting role as Atticus, a star gladiator, who attempts to befriend Milo.
Milo’s perspective on attachment changes when he meets the beautiful Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of a merchant (Jared Harris, Lincoln) looking to expand Pompeii’s status. While there’s not a ton of chemistry between Harrington and Browning, the script —credited to four screenwriters — is to blame as it doesn’t provide much reason for them to be drawn to each other beyond a passing attraction.
Harrington doesn’t seem at all out of place or uncomfortably positioned in the lead role. He has a presence that Kellan Lutz lacked in Legend of Hercules and hopefully, Harrington will use this as a springboard to better lead roles in the future.
Kiefer Sutherland (24) is miscast as the scheming Roman senator Corvus, who feels tacked on to be the obligatory bad guy simply because fighting against a land-destroying volcano just wasn’t enough. Besides, if anyone could stop a volcano erupting with time ticking against him, you’ve gotta figure it’d be Jack Bauer.
Anderson unfortunately has all the subtlety of Kim Kardashian or Nicki Minaj in a thong bikini so he can’t resist the urge of every few minutes teasing the pending eruption instead of doing any worthwhile character development.
Once all that pesky storytelling gets done with and he can turn his attention to the gladiator fights and the volcano’s eruption, the film isn’t awful. Anderson stages a number of battles, particularly those involving Corvus’ right hand man Proculus (the commanding Sasha Roiz), like video game boss fights. Besides occasionally getting too close to the action, they’re well done.
The volcano special effects look great with massive destruction, flame trails and ash flying everywhere. There’s a sense of danger to everyone — except the main characters. Granted, it’d be silly for a tidal wave to kill off a major player early on, but it’s another thing when every natural calamity seems to actively avoid approaching them like some reverse Final Destination death scene. The film’s most unintentionally funny moment occurs when debris hits every on screen character save for two main characters.
With a dreary, washed out color palette and disappointing lack of pop and depth, Pompeii features one of the worst 3D efforts in years despite Anderson using 3D cameras during filming. Occasionally an object will ‘shoot out’ from the screen, but not nearly enough to warrant the extra cost.
Rating: 4 out of 10
Photo Credit: Caitlin Cronenberg/Constantin Film