Pompeii (2014) Film Review, a movie directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, and starring Emily Browning, Kit Harington, Carrie-Anne Moss, Paz Vega, Kiefer Sutherland, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jessica Lucas, Jared Harris, Sasha Roiz, Currie Graham, Melantha Blackthorne, Ben Lewis, Joe Pingue, Alain Moussi, and Jean Frenette.
Set in 79 A.D., this movie tells the apocalyptic tale of the over-night destruction of one of the ancient world’s most thriving cities. Director Paul W. S. Anderson (Resident Evil franchise), delivers his cinematic death-poem to the tragedy he’s been obsessed with ever since he was a wee British lad.
The film begins in upper Britannia, flashing-back 20 years earlier. A small boy bears witness to the slaughter of his entire Celtic tribe of “horse people” at the hands of the evil Roman senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland).
When we meet the Celtic boy again, he is now an adult slave named Milo (Kit Harington), who’s become a feared gladiator. Milo wins the favor of Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of one of Pompeii’s most affluent families, when he shows mercy to her injured horse. There is a bright spark between Cassia and Milo, despite his lowly social status.
Soon however, Corvus, the same corrupt Roman senator responsible for the massacre in Upper Britannia, sets his sights on marrying the young Cassia, against her will. Corvus even threatens to murder her family if she says no. This conversation conveniently takes place during the gladiator battle that features Milo fighting for his life.
Once the earth starts quaking and the lava starts oozing, all strict social mores fly out the coliseum window and Milo the slave becomes Milo the hero. Milo vows to save Cassia from the devastating destruction that includes a massive tsunami, but will the moustache-twirling Corvus save her first?
Pompeii is at its best when it attempts to capture the daily life and rhythms of the bustling resort city. Known as the Las Vegas of ancient Rome, the CGI city is full of beautiful architecture, including a massive coliseum with a dank underworld of slave cages and tunnels. Life is decadent for the Roman 1% and truly gruesome for those at the bottom of the wine glass.
During the gladiator battle, a golden-masked Greek chorus narrates the event, providing our modern-day audience with a peek into the entertainment experience of centuries past.
The movie lacks any solid character development, however, and though we know the stakes are life and death, it’s pretty hard to get emotionally invested. Kit Harington is a wonderful actor, whom we’ve grown to love on Game of Thrones, but he’s barely given any dialogue and comes off as a witless brute.
Kiefer Sutherland also delivers a static performance, as the script turns him into a cartoonish bad guy with no depth, charm or complication.
Probably the most underwritten character of all is Vesuvius itself. The volcano is presented as the straight-forward villain from the very beginning. This is historically accurate, but not savvy or entertaining. The filmmakers make no attempt to depict the magma-bubbling mountain as exciting or seductive or truly alive. The shoddy 3D makes it even less sexy.
During the movie, I couldn’t help but wish I was watching The Hunger Games movies instead – though they are bubble-gum, they are infinitely more entertaining.
Bottom line: If historical drama is your thing, rent this on DVD and spare yourself a 3D headache.
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