The story of Pompeii is one we’ve heard time and time again. Sadly, director Paul W. S. Anderson’s revisitation of this piece of history doesn’t offer anything new. His film combines elements of historical fiction, action and a love story. It aims high, but misses the mark altogether.
Kit Harington, best known for his part in the Game Of Thrones television franchise, plays Milo. He’s a near silent, but extremely ripped, slave-turned-gladiator. We watch as he battles his way from a small, regional arena to the big time in Pompeii. It’s here that he develops something of a friendship with fellow gladiator Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Ajbaje) and lusts hopelessly after Lady Cassia (Emily Browning). It’s also in Pompeii that Milo comes face to face with Senator Corvus (Keifer Sutherland), a corrupt Roman senator who orchestrated the mass murder of Milo’s people. The tale is told against the impending eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
Unfortunately, Harington is far from captivating as Milo. Despite a brief exploration of his back-story, there is barely any substance to his character. Admittedly, Harington doesn’t have much to work with, and his performance here feels empty. He is surprisingly quiet for the protagonist of the film, making it hard to take an interest in what befalls him throughout.
Opposite him, Emily Browning (Lemony Snicket’s A Series Of Unfortunate Events) is quite lovely to watch on screen but, ultimately, equally lacking. The dialogue they share is often clichéd and feels very strained. Keifer Sutherland (Melancholia) certainly isn’t the most memorable bad guy. Despite a few cruel acts here and there he fails at instilling necessary fear in the hearts and minds of the audience.
The narrative of Pompeii simply doesn’t bring anything of appeal to the table either. The love story and the inevitable volcanic eruption are both equally as predictable. Anderson doesn’t provide viewers with any unique insight – to anything – preferring to deliver a film that feels as safe as possible. The screenplay, by Lee and Janet Scott Batchler (Batman Forever), developed along with Michael Robert Johnson (Sherlock Holmes), seems to be the source of the films failings. With a narrative and a group of characters so painfully underdeveloped, it is up to cringe-worthy clichés to progress the story.
To be fair, Pompeii isn’t all disaster (no pun intended). Many of the gladiatorial fights are somewhat thrilling. In fact, the most gripping scenes are played out within Pompeii’s great arena. The combat sequences generate a decent amount of suspense, easily providing the film with its most riveting scenes. The climatic eruption of Mount Vesuvius is actually well-executed. The finale is really made for the big screen and Anderson delivers with mostly realistic special effects, and the use of 3D technology strengthens this experience.
The other mildly commendable element of Pompeii is its production design. The costuming and set design both have an authentic feel, which is important given the historical context of the film. Pompeii’s production team manages to transport you to the time and place of these events. That, sadly, is it for the ‘pros’ list. All other elements of the film let it down.
Paul W. S. Anderson said of his film; “We decided to make the biggest sword-and-sandal movie ever, but with a volcano.” I’m not sure Pompeii could claim that title while standing alongside similar films such as Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, even if there is a mild sense of spectacle. Pompeii doesn’t have much going for it – at all. Unlike the ancient remains cemented in time at Pompeii, this film won’t come close to enduring.
THE REEL SCORE: 3/10