As a child, Milo (Kit Harington) witnessed the butchering of his parents and his entire Celtic village at the hands of a Roman general named Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) and his troops led by Strigana (Paz Vega). Pretending to be dead, Milo was dumped in a pile of bodies. He waited for the Romans to leave before wandering the countryside as five year old orphan. Sleeping under a tree, Milo is discovered by a merchant’s caravan and is sold into slavery. Having grown into a handsome and dangerous young man, Milo, known only by the nickname “The Celt,” is a star gladiator known for his speed and fierceness. His owner decides Milo would be a good addition to his stable in Pompeii and marches him and other gladiators to the city. Along the way, a carriage hits a pothole, causing one of the horses to rear up and break a leg. Getting out of the carriage is Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of Pompeii’s ruling family. Milo says he can help the horse and Cassia orders his owner to allow it. Knowing the horse is suffering and will never heal, Milo breaks the animal’s neck to end its pain. Cassia is impressed with his compassion and his looks. In Pompeii, Milo meets the champion gladiator Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Adbaje). Atticus need only win one more match and, under Roman law, he would be set free. It turns out Milo is scheduled to be his next opponent. During a practice session, Atticus and Milo impress each other with their skills and a friendship develops. Cassia returns to her home in Pompeii after a year in Rome and is warmly greeted by her parents Severus and Aurelia (Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss). It is the festival of Vanalia and the town is filled to capacity, including Roman Senator Corvus and his security chief Strigana. Corvus is in town to possibly lend his support for a massive rebuilding project in Pompeii. Severus wants Emperor Titus to invest in the project and hopes Corvus will back the funding. Corvus is more interested in pursuing Cassia and using his support of the building project as leverage against Severus to agree to his marrying his daughter. Milo sees both Corvus and Strigana and believes the gods spared his life in the village all those years ago so that he might one day gain his revenge. Meanwhile, Mt. Vesuvius, a nearby active volcano, is beginning to rumble, causing small earthquakes, gas pockets erupting out the ground and cracks appearing in buildings. Soon, Pompeii will only be a memory.
“Pompeii” is an average movie. It doesn’t do anything particularly well or memorably. The characters are all rather bland and two dimensional. Nothing is a surprise or a shock throughout the entire film. The only thing that is mildly impressive about “Pompeii” is the visual effects and Kit Harington’s abs, which come to think of it, could have been a visual effect as well.
If you’ve watched any tragic love story made in the last 75 years, you’ve seen pretty much the same movie as “Pompeii” but probably done better. All the characters in this film are locked into their types as either good or bad. The villains are obvious from the first moment they appear on screen and never vary in their lack of morals or decency. The heroes are just as obvious and never waiver. There’s the tragic hero who must fight to survive but is quickly tamed by the love of a beautiful woman who, of course, he cannot have due to the difference in the class. There’s the noble hero who, while gruff and would kill anyone he must, warms to the friendship of the tragic hero. The tragic heroine feels unrequited love for the tragic hero and is relentlessly pursued by the dastardly villain. The dastardly villain must of course have an evil henchman who carries out all the villain’s orders to cause pain and mayhem to his enemies. As the backdrop to all of this, there’s nature that will always have the upper hand over humanity and will be the final victor. The clichés run hot and heavy throughout “Pompeii” and the melodramatic and downright odd acting choices certainly don’t help.
The oddest acting done in “Pompeii” is by primary villain Keifer Sutherland. Playing Corvus with a slight British accent and mild lisp, Sutherland is the kind of villain that would tie the damsel in distress to the train tracks, if they have been invented in Roman times, and twirl his mustache if he had one. Corvus oozes smug superiority and pure evil. The performance is so one-note you might wonder if Sutherland was acting so poorly on purpose. The rest of the cast plays up the tragic nature of their characters yet manages to be rather dull doing it. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is about the only player who manages to come out looking pretty good. His Atticus is a proud warrior who fights to one day be free. Atticus has a strength and maturity the other characters lack. Akinnuoye-Agbaje is able to take lemons and make lemonade. Sadly none of the rest of the cast has as much success. Kit Harington, best known for his role on “Game of Thrones,” is satisfactory as the young, handsome hero Milo. He looks grim, angry, determined and loving when he’s required to. I never really bought into him as a winning gladiator since he was the smallest fighter in the group. Emily Browning has the big doe eyes necessary to play the tragic heroine Cassia. While she is at times strong and defiant, Cassia is a fairly stereotypical female character whose primary purpose in the film is to be threatened by the villain and saved by the hero. The script doesn’t give her much to do and she does it about as well as can be expected.
No one in the cast can compete with the real star of the show: The digitally re-created Mt. Vesuvius. The eruption sends giant glowing-red boulders raining onto the city, causing massive destruction and fires wherever they land. The giant billowing cloud of smoke and ash rising up to the heavens seems almost alive as it roils ever higher. The angry glow of the pyroclastic flow as it barrels down on the city at nearly 200 miles per hour gives only the slightest hint at the broiling heat and poisonous death that awaits inside it. If the film had been just the eruption and destruction then it would probably have been more entertaining. It’s all the other stuff that the audience has to sit through that brings this film down.
“Pompeii” is rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences, disaster-related action and brief sexual content. There are numerous fights involving swords, spears and other weapons. While we see several stabbings there isn’t much in the way of blood and gore. The one exception involves seeing the back of a slave who has been punished with 15 lashes from a whip. The volcano causes enormous destruction with flying giant boulders crashing into buildings that then collapse onto people. The final scenes of death and destruction are mostly suggested instead of shown. The brief sexual content involves no nudity but has veiled discussions about male sex organs. There are no foul language issues.
Director Paul W. S. Anderson is the man behind several of the “Resident Evil” movies and the remake of “Death Race.” I have yet to see a movie of his I like a great deal and “Pompeii” does nothing to break the streak. While it isn’t so bad as to be insulting, it isn’t good enough for me to recommend. It occupies a kind of cinematic purgatory in that it is very, very average. Do yourself a favor and go see one of the films nominated for best picture at this year’s Oscars. You’ll come out way ahead of this film.
“Pompeii” gets three very middling guitars.
Illicit romance, high-flying action and a Biblical epic are this week’s new films. Vote for the next movie I see and review.
In Secret—A young woman trapped in a loveless marriage to a sickly cousin meets and falls in love with her husband’s alluring friend leading to tragic consequences.
Non-Stop—Alcoholic and world-weary, U.S. Air Marshal Bill Marks (Liam Neeson) lost his passion for his work long ago. Even though lives are potentially at stake during every flight, he sees the assignment as just a desk job. However, his "ordinary day at the office" becomes a high-stakes crisis during a flight to London. Marks receives a series of text messages demanding that he instruct the airline to transfer $150 million into an offshore account, or a passenger will die every 20 minutes.
Son of God—Portuguese actor Diogo Morgado portrays the role of Jesus as the film spans from his humble birth through his teachings, crucifixion and ultimate resurrection.
Stan’s Choice—Stan sees and reviews any film of his choice currently in theatres.
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