Pompeii Review

Historical accuracy; who needs it? Sure, in reality the inhabitants of the titular city Pompeii were burned to ashes instantly by the catastrophic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 A.D, and left with no time to panic or flee to harbors, but sometimes ignoring history yields an entertaining leave-your-brain-at-the-door experience. This is true for Pompeii but you will have to eat your vegetables before you are allowed the dessert. The film opens up 17 years prior to the main event, where a very young Milo witnesses his parents and tribe slaughtered. For whatever reason is a mystery, but Milo manages to stay alive by hiding underneath a pile of dead bodies. Don't ask how he snuck under there without getting killed, because director Paul W.S Anderson clearly doesn't care either. Nevertheless, Milo is recruited as a slave gladiator by some evil Romans afterwards. Flashing forward to the days leading up to the volcanic eruption, an enormous amount of exposition is laid upon us. Cassia (Emily Browning), a daughter of a pretty important family living in Pompeii falls for a chiseled Milo (Kit Harington) based on something as random and bizarre as his affection towards horses; a skill passed down from his tribesmen. It also doesn't help that neither Kit Harington nor Emily Browning deliver a convincing performance; Milo is so apathetic it's a wonder Cassia is even interested. It's safe to say that there isn't much realistic about this relationship, but who cares because most of the flick is nonstop action anyway, right?
Truthfully, there is an abundant of gladiator action to compensate for the fact that the anticipated volcano doesn't make an appearance properly until the final 25 minutes, but it's just so boring to watch. There are multiple scenes and characters of guys slitting each other's throats, twisting blades inside each other, and generally attacking each other with the associated sense of brutality, but the PG-13 rating holds the violence back far too much. It didn't need to be excessively gory, but when people are killing each other for sport, some sort of bloodshed is to be expected. Some of the fights are just beyond incoherent as well; most notably when a horse comes from nowhere into the arena to aid Milo in combat... and then is just gone minutes later. Not dead, stunned, or separated, but physically gone as if it just disappointed into thin air. The entire movie is filled with confusing editing like that; another great moment is a close-up shot of Milo with some fairly brutal lacerations after a traditional whipping, only they disappear in the very next shot of him raising himself up from a sitting position. Whenever Pompeii isn't failing miserably trying to blossom a believable relationship between Milo and Cassia or neutered combat, the film somehow becomes even less interesting. Kiefer Sutherland plays a shady, backstabbing Roman Senator Corvus who earns his right to marry Cassia through politics, only none of it is engaging or actually makes you hate him. The only other plot point is a half-hearted attempt at giving Milo a combat brother of sorts in a gladiator named Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who is also one win away from becoming a free man. At least that is cheesy cool in a 1990's run-of-the-mill action vibe kind of way though. The only time Pompeii succeeds when not showing a special-effects extravaganza of a volcano tearing a city to pieces,is whenever Milo's owner is on-screen. It's not for a good reason though; this guy practically embodies every stereotype you could possibly think of when tossing up a powerful Roman on-screen. During fights, there are even cuts to him doing the classic leaned back pose while his servants hand him grapes. How nobody realized this guy was nothing more than a cartoon character, and didn't step in to change something in the script is a mystery, but for what it's worth he's actually an entertaining character to laugh at.
With all those bases covered, when the volcano does hit, Pompeii becomes enjoyable to watch and disaster porn at its finest. There are numerous shots of citizens running frantically in the streets, getting squashed by crumbling architecture and incoming meteors, seas flooding the docks, and blackness blocking out the sky, that all boast some impressive CGI. The tension of the plot significantly ramps up too, as Milo races through the destruction to battle Corvus and save his forbidden love. As previously mentioned, the love story here isn't believable at all, but the theatrics of the destruction along with the novelty of seeing a slaved gladiator courageously fight through it all to save someone that he deems worthy of dying for, makes for a fairly entertaining extended sequence. It's just a shame that more of Pompeii didn't feature a deadly Mount Vesuvius; it's the best character in the movie.
Pompeii is playing in US cinemas now.
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I write for WhatCulture (duh) and MammothCinema. Born with Muscular Dystrophy Type 2; lover of film, games, wrestling, and TV.