Here’s the problem with Pompeii – I didn’t hate it. I KNOW. Paul W.S. Anderson is the poor man’s Michael Bay, I get the hate, but the dude knows how to orchestrate a blockbuster film. Give him some funding and the action flows, whether it be smoke monsters or destructive typhoons – this didn’t have to be a historically accurate film, right? No, Pompeii is exactly the film you’d expect, drawing out a horrific natural disaster far longer than necessary while interjecting a misguided love story so audiences can engage dramatically. The destruction of Pompeii just isn’t enough to hook viewers these days I guess, as Paul guides audiences through the motions of yet another ridiculous mainstream blockbuster – but at least he does so with vigor and chaos.
Pompeii transports viewers back to a time when gladiators were modern-day rockstars, politics usually involved literal backstabbing, and where every man was held to a strict 6 ab quota – unless you were rich enough. While everyone knows of the tragic historical event that saw Mount Vesuvius obliterate a flourishing harbor city, our story follows Milo (Kit Harington), a slave turned super-gladiator attracting attention for all the wrong reasons. Winning the eye of Cassia (Emily Browning), Milo finds himself in a constant power struggle with a corrupt Senator (Kiefer Sutherland) who wants only to see him dead. While fighting what was supposed to be an losing affair, Mount Vesuvius decides to add a natural disaster to the list of things trying to kill Milo, but as the massive coliseum crumbles around our warrior hero, a successful escape seems less likely with each passing second. Will Milo forever be preserved in Pompeii’s ruin?
Here’s the part in most other critical reviews where the author will note numerous historical inaccuracies about a film that eviscerates Roman culture quicker than Mount Vesuvius demolished Pompeii, possibly referencing how “Rome was built in a day, but Paul W.S. Anderson destroyed Pompeii with this hour and a half atrocity” – but I’m not sold. We’ve all seen Anderson’s Resident Evil series, right? Convoluted, messy filmmaking that’s strangely endearing at times (depending on which flick), always emphasizing over-the-top action and gnarly visuals. We all saw The Three Musketeers, right? You know, the Alexandre Dumas adaptation that features a blimp? Pompeii delivers exactly as advertised – a convoluted script, a groan-worthy love story, chiseled gladiator abs, and Mount Vesuvius’ glorious eruption – please tell me you weren’t expecting a History Channel type documentary here.
With that said, Paul W.S. Anderson tries to channel his inner Nicholas Sparks when establishing Milo and Cassia’s forbidden love, doing so with the grace of an energy-drink guzzling bull in a China shop. I understand every director’s desire to create romantic tension, because audiences eat up even the tiniest morsel of relationship drama, but when two male gladiator friends have better chemistry than a gladiator and his lusty crush, well, insert joke about a fairy tale that goes up in smoke. Sure, it’s still a better love story than Winter’s Tale, but coming off one of the most loveless Valentine’s Day box-office debuts in recent memory, that’s not exactly a gold star.
Only weighing down Pompeii is another role by Kit Harington that suggests our young Game Of Thrones star is a one-trick pony, walking and pouting like some hunk of man meat forged from the fantasies of daydreaming suburban housewives. Embodying the personality of any Pompeiian ash statue, Harington struggles to create a watchable character beyond abs and nipples, as even those transfixed womanly eyes will become bored by Harington’s wooden, lifeless character – only bested (worsted?) by Kiefer’s hilariously dastardly evil Senator act. Imagine if a Hanna Barbera cartoon villain was stuck in ancient Rome, perpetuating an epic standoff with a protagonist sack of potatoes – SURROUNDED BY ASH AND FIRE.
Pompeii is a cliché ridden, airy, smokey bit of cinema that will be forgotten in a matter of years, and Paul W.S. Anderson haters will surely have a field day with his historically inept disaster flick. But when the action is heavy and Milo isn’t talking, Pompeii is fluffily entertaining. I’m disappointed an R-rating wasn’t implemented, as confusingly bloodless battles defy biological science, but I stand by Anderson’s action choreography, and compared to a film like The Legend Of Hercules, Pompeii plays like an Oscar favorite. Whatever – Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje rules, massive architectural destruction creates momentary bouts of impressive visual splendor, unintentional laughs are abundant, and I had a decently good time with it all. There. I said it.
Did we absolutely need a movie like Pompeii? Of course not. Am I mad it exists? Not in the least.