Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Was it really necessary for this movie to be such crap? Director/producer Paul W.S. Anderson is known for fantasy/sci fi action movies that are light on coherence and heavy on explosions. But whereas in the past he’s sometimes come up with flicks entertaining enough to at least slightly transcend their own silliness (the early “Resident Evil” movies, for instance, played some interesting games with the heroine’s “Blade Runner” type identity crisis), “Pompeii” wallows in the cliché gutter with a defiance much like that which it’s hero throws at the Romans who have enslaved him.
One can trace the story arc by where each bit is stolen from, often without the slightest attempt to hide the source material. Our young hero watches his entire village slaughtered by the Romans and is enslaved to become a gladiator (“Conan the Barbarian,” 1982). Fifteen years later, we meet him as “The Celt,” the gladiator champion of a dusty outlying province. He’s brought to Pompeii to provide a suitable rival for Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), an African champion who has been promised his freedom if he wins. This sets up the inevitable white/black frenemy relationship as the two rivals become friends and allies—first seen in “Spartacus” (1960) and ripped off far more skillfully in “Gladiator” (2000).
The Celt is played by Kit Harrington, who has become synonymous with John Snow, the popular character he plays in the series “Game of Thrones.” He’s been mocked in this one as a smoldering British Taylor Kitsch—which is apt, because I don’t think there’s anything wrong with Taylor Kitsch as an action hero that better script choices couldn’t fix. Harrington’s presence served mainly to remind me how much I’d rather be watching “Games of Thrones.”
Love interest Cassia (Emily Browning) is little more than a life support system for a great set of cheekbones. She’s pursued from Rome by lecherous older suitor Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland, who really ought to take smarminess lessons from his dad—see “Hunger Games” series), who just happens to be the Roman general who killed The Celt’s mother, and who just happens to show up in Pompeii on the same day. There’s a side-plot around Corvus investing in Cassia’s father’s development schemes—the kind of bureaucratic drama that “Game of Thrones” could make entertaining, but it goes nowhere.
Which all leads up to “Titanic with a volcano” portion of the proceedings. About the best thing you can say about the movie is that the eruption is more or less scientifically accurate. It starts with earthquakes, which the locals ignore like Californians, then moves on to massive ash and lava flows. The ground wouldn’t have cracked up quite as much as shown (from what I’ve read), and the huge tsunami that results is quite exaggerated. But real volcanoes are generally spectacular enough you don’t need to embellish them much.
SPOILER ALERT: The other semi-decent thing I can say is that I liked the ending. In the end, all the action determines is who dies a victor and who dies defeated. Again, better writing could have done something with this irony. I was just left wondering why the inevitable doom took so long.