Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Kit Harington, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jared Harris, Jessica Lucas.
Written by: Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler and Michael Robert Johnson
Running Time: 105 mins
Release date: 30th April 2014
Pompeii shouldn’t work. It’s directed by a man whose contribution to cinema has been the Resident Evil series. It’s a story that we were told in primary school and it’s in 3D. Yet this ragtag of romance/gladiator/disaster film is a zippy, fun piece of popcorn fodder with more to enjoy than to criticise.
Milo is a Celt who, as a boy, witnesses the massacre of his village and the murder of his parents by the Romans, led by Corvus. Years pass and Milo has grown up to be a master gladiator, known for taking on three men at a time. Wanting a larger audience, he is whisked off to Pompeii where, on his journey, he meets Cassia, the daughter to an important businessman. They instantly fall in love but it’s a romance that isn’t suppose to work, as he is there to die. It soon turns out that he is to fight in front of the man who single-handedly destroyed his ancestors and while this is going on, a certain Mount Vesuvius is rumbling.
Okay, so it’s not perfect and as we know from his previous films, Anderson struggles with story and just throws everything he has at the screen in the vain hope that something will stick. he does it here with abundance but if you just go with it and forget about the cheesy dialogue and campy, hammy performances, it’s not as painful as you would expect.
The romance doesn’t work. There is no way that a slave would ever get the opportunity to fall in love with a wealthy merchant’s daughter and you immediately start comparing it with that of James Cameron’s equally cheesy Titanic. Only difference is I didn’t laugh out loud at the awful dialogue like I did with the Kate Winslett/Leonardo DiCaprio romance. It stretches even more to unbelievable when Corvus wants a piece of the action and decides to take Cassia as his wife. Luckily, it doesn’t get in the way too much and doesn’t bring the film to a crashing halt.
What does work well are the impressive fight sequences. The grand gladiatorial sequences, especially the central fight which turns out to be more a re-enactment of the Celt massacre is handled with plenty of energy and aplomb. There isn’t the blood-letting that you got in Gladiator, mainly as this is a 12A but there’s plenty of testosterone and bulging muscles on show to keep the action fans happy.
All this time, you are given subtle reminders that this is a film about a very angry volcano and so when it finally erupts, it’s a spectacular special effects celebration, with fiery rocks and billowing smoke coming at you from all angles, all in 3D. Yes, I did duck out the way of the occasional piece of shrapnel but as the smoky clouds form, so the screen gets darker and with the grey glasses, there are moments when you find it difficult to see what’s happening. Credit, thought, to the FX team, who give us tidal waves with Roman garrisons being thrown down the small streets of Pompeii, explosions, lava and lots and lots of buildings being destroyed.
Add to all this destruction are a mixed bag of performances. Kit Harrington, one of the stars of Game Of Thrones, gets to carry his first film as Milo and he’s not terrible. With his macho whispering voice, he handles the physical stuff well but struggles with the serious love scenes. Emily Browning refuses to play your usual female love interest, instead giving Cassia some guts which is fine until she melts every time she sees Milo. while it’s always good to see Carrie-Ann Moss on-screen, it’s a shame her part is so badly underwritten as is Jared Harris’s as Cassia’s parents.
Thankfully we get Kiefer Sutherland as Corvus. Never fully sure where his accent is supposed to be from, his is the campiest Roman leader this side of Kenneth Williams in Carry On Cleo. You can see he’s having tons of fun and surprisingly, its infectious, although you can’t wait to see him get his comeuppance. As far removed from his Jack Bauer character from 24, it’s Sutherland at his most relaxed and his most playful.
If you go in expecting a history lesson, forget it. If you go in with a giant bag of popcorn and your brain in neutral, it’s a harmless piece of nonsense that moves at a terrific pace and never leaves you bored or looking at your watch. I’ll have another slice of cheese please.