Let’s just start with the obvious: this is not a good film. The story is silly and pointless (hello, volcano!); what little good acting there is, is mostly lost in the bad dialog; the characters are about as one dimensional as possible and the plot is obviously filler to get to the whole point of the film: The exploding of a giant volcano. That said, this is a very fun film and I enjoyed it a whole heck of a lot, though perhaps not in the way the filmmakers intended.
Pompeii, directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (mostly know for his involvement in the Resident Evil series), tells the story of Milo the Celt (Kit Harington, better known as Game of Thrones’ John Snow), whose family is slaughtered by a bunch of evil Romans led by Corvus (Keifer Sutherland), who personally slits Milo’s mom’s throat. Milo survives the slaughter of his village only to be captured by slave traders. Cut to 17 years later where he is now one of the most bad ass gladiators around. Move over Maximus! Milo is shipped off to Pompeii where they think his talents will be better appreciated. Along the way he meets Cassia (Emily Browning), daughter to the ruler of Pompeii, who randomly falls in love with Milo. Why? Mostly because the plot needs for it to happen. Such is the motivation for much of the story.
Once in Pompeii Milo meets a fellow gladiator, Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, best known as Adebisi from HBO’s Oz and Mr. Ecko from Lost), they are supposed to kill one another in the arena, but it’s obvious from moment one that there is a mutual respect between these two and you know that’s not going to happen.
Meanwhile, the evil Corvus rolls into town with his army. Why is he evil? Cause the plot needed an evil roman guy, and Corvus apparently fit the bill. He wants to marry Cassia himself, but she doesn’t like him because he’s evil. And her parents (Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss) quickly grow to dislike him as well. And why not? He’s so evil!
This sordid love triangle of evil Roman/love-struck maiden/dreamy-eyed-six-pack-laden gladiator carries on for a while until the volcano explodes. As if the trailers and history lessons hadn’t hinted to the volcano’s inevitable eruption, the film cuts to sweeping panning shots of the volcano about every five minutes or such just to remind the audience that something is coming. Something besides this silly story that they are watching. (or perhaps they just wanted to give drinkers another good drinking game. Take a shot every time they cut to the mountain.)
And come it does.
Pompeii and most of its inhabitants are brutally destroyed by everything the volcano has to thrown at them. This part of the film is actually pretty well done. As far as panicked crowds trying to escape a natural disaster go, I don’t think you’ll get much better than this. This is truly where Anderson shines as a director. We don’t know exactly what happened when Mt. Vesuvius erupted, but I’ll bet it was pretty close to this.
Besides the epic devastation at the end of the film, the best parts are, hands down, Harington and Akennouye-Agbaje. They put as much life into these flat characters as possible and manage to actually make us care about them, which is really hard to do in a disaster film. Milo and Atticus are very fun characters and whether fighting off hoards of guys in the arena or trying to survive molten lava and giant rocks raining down from the sky, you genuinely enjoy these characters and care about what happens to them. Harington carries this film, as he was meant to do. I really hope he gets a chance to do this in a good film, because then I think he’ll really get a chance to shine.
Sadly, that same praise cannot be said about any of the others. Browning is simply a pretty, doe-eyed city girl who falls in love with the rough and tough gladiator. Sutherland may be Jack Bauer in most circles, but here he’s just another generic evil guy, because the film needed one. I don’t think Sutherland ever got a grasp of who this character was or where he was coming from, because he just looks confused to trying to play this blindly evil man who has no true purpose other than to stand in the way of Milo and Cassia before the volcano comes after them all.
With all of these faults, I found myself laughing at much of the dialog and logic (or lack there of) of the decisions the characters make. Why did they just do that? I found myself ask over and over, to much delight. As the death toll starts to mount, many of those are funny too. I know that’s pretty morbid on my part, but it’s a killer volcano taking out the village!
Perhaps I didn’t enjoy Pompeii as Paul W.S. Anderson had intended, but if you like campy films, you just might get a kick out of this one.
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson Notable Cast: Kit Harington, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland, Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss Writer:Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler and Michael Robert Johnson
Mike Noyes received his Masters Degree in Film from the Academy of Art University, San Francisco. A few of his short films can be viewed here: http://www.youtube.com/user/mikebnoyes. He recently published his first novel which you can buy here: https://www.amazon.com/Seven-Days-Years-Mike-Noyes-ebook/dp/B07D48NT6B/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1528774538&sr=8-1&keywords=seven+days+seven+years