Paul W.S. Anderson’s newest action-adventure, “Pompeii,” is nothing more than a mildly entertaining film. Telling the story of the mighty eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii, Italy, 79 A.D., and starring Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Carrie-Anne Moss, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Kiefer Sutherland, this movie is borderline laughable.
There are a few satisfying moments, and it definitely keeps you smiling (if for all the wrong reasons), but as a whole, “Pompeii” is not worth your time.
At first glance, one would assume this is simply a film about the city of Pompeii, and if you know your history, you may take it as far as thinking Mount Vesuvius is involved. If you’ve seen the trailer or even the movie itself, you know that “Pompeii” is much more than this. The film itself begins with young Milo (Harington), who witnesses his parents being slaughtered by the Romans. After escaping the massacre and spending his childhood in slavery, Milo becomes a gladiator and makes his way to the city of Pompeii as a dangerous new fighter. While in the city, he lends assistance to a high-class young lady, Cassia (Browning), and immediately you can see a connection between the two. At the same time, he realizes the men who killed his parents are there for the arena fights, and when the Mount Vesuvius finally erupts, he must fight to take revenge and attempt to save the one he loves.
For anyone that reads my reviews, you may notice that I am a fairly optimistic person when it comes to movies being good or bad. Making a film is a tough process and in my opinion, just about every movie has some level of entertainment that appeals to certain viewers. That being said, this movie may be that exception, as I was not impressed with “Pompeii.” Going into the theater, my level of expectation was low. I had a feeling I was about to see an over-the-top, sub-par film, and sadly, I was not pleasantly surprised. In fact, I wasn’t sure whether I was watching a cheaper version of “Gladiator” or “Spartacus” (the TV series), or if this was simply a lame attempt at creating a story about Pompeii and Mount Vesuvius.
Another couple of points of criticism is the revenge story, as Milo clearly wants to go after his parents' killers, and a very typical over-played love story between him and one of the most important girls around. There’s just too much going on, and it’s hard to stay focused or care about anything that’s supposed to be important. The film gets more and more absurd as the fighting continues while the eruption of the volcano consumes the city, filling it with water and fire, and bringing down everything around them.
Nothing in the film is complete. Aside from Milo, no one’s background is explained, and the characters’ motivations are unclear. Milo’s relationship (if you can call it that) with Cassia is extremely under-established, to say the least. Nothing seems to be at stake and the characters only seemed concerned with themselves, completely ignoring the volcano until it is too late. There are a variety of good disaster-like special effects and shots of the city, the volcano, etc. However, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the actors were on digital sets, or they were using computer-generated backgrounds. The action sequences are somewhat entertaining, with lots of sword fighting, but it’s just successfully finished. The film switches quickly from multiple camera angles during these scenes, which becomes annoying, and you can clearly see several fake combat moves as the actors hold back or don’t always complete their actions during a fight.
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays a cocky and comical undefeated gladiator seeking freedom, and with Kiefer Sutherland playing the antagonist, you know it’s going to be trouble. I didn’t mind Emily Browning as the gorgeous damsel, and Kit Harington feels like he’s on a higher level than almost anyone in the film as he makes it his own. Other roles are filled with familiar faces like Carrie-Anne Moss and Jared Harris.
In the end, I’m afraid the corniness or failed execution of multiple elements of this film hit more times than the writers’ desire of making any real impact or showing the significance of Mount Vesuvius. Apparently the filmmakers spent several years researching the disaster to make it as accurate as possible, but the story presented here just seems too outrageous and heavily dramatized. It turns out to be more about the people, their relationships and feelings of love, anger, and revenge. Like most films, there is a moderate level of excitement and enjoyment, but this might not be your first choice of movies to see this weekend.
Rated 2 out of 5 stars.
“Pompeii” is rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences, disaster-related action and brief sexual content. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Hayden Pittman is a special contributor to WFAA.com and a freelance film critic and entertainment blogger out of Dallas. More of his content can be found on YouPlusDallas.com and his author archive here. He is a film, TV, and sports enthusiast, and hopes to pursue a future in filmmaking and screenwriting. As an average, passionate film lover who rarely misses a film, his reviews are straightforward and his way with words will let you know in a simple way what he thinks. Don’t like what he has to say? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @HPMoviePitt.