Starring: Kit Harrington, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland
Genre: Action/ Adventure/ Drama
In 79 A.D., A slave and Gladiator originally from Britain named Milo (Harrington) who witnessed his entire family slaughtered at the hands of a Roman army commanded by Corvus (Sutherland) arrives in the city of Pompeii under order to fight in the city’s upcoming games. On route he catches the eye of Cassia (Browning) the daughter of Pompeii’s ruler who wants to do a deal with Corvus (now a senator) to invest in developing Pompeii, but in exchange for Cassia’s (very) reluctant hand in marriage. After annoying Corvus through some very contrived plot developments, Milo is put in an outnumbered fight to the death scenario in the games and has to join forces with fellow Gladiator Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) to survive. However, always casting a shadow over the city, Mount Vesuvius is about to unleash no mercy on all of them, can Milo be reunited with his true love while avoiding nasty Roman’s and dodging flying ash and boulders?
I have no idea why I just wrote that last paragraph, because the fact is that the apparent ‘plot’ of Pompeii makes no difference. We all know what is going to happen, as the clue is very much in the title and the poster, and we do not really care how we get there. Well neither in fact does Paul W.S. Anderson or his three screenwriters as Pompeii contains the most lazy, clichéd, contrived and generic plot possible. Naturally it is very historically (and geographically) inaccurate, the dialogue is appalling, the acting not much better, the characters all very basic caricatures that tick a certain checklist and it is impossible to have any emotional investment in any of them. Though of course it is not a plot spoiler to say that a Volcano erupts and takes a whole city with it, it is glaringly obvious exactly what is going to happen to every character and when, and how it is going to happen to them. Then it has ‘directed by Paul W.S. Anderson’ on the poster, so anyone expecting a philosophical character driven narrative is a naive fool indeed!
There is no denying the fact that Pompeii is, by definition, a bad film. A very bad film. However, if I were to compile a league table of bad films then I would place Pompeii near the summit of this said league table, as there is no denying in my mind that it is, with the right expectations, a tremendously enjoyable and fun watch.
Paul W.S. Anderson is indeed a strange director to understand the mindset of: his CV is full of terrible films (Even Horizon was good fun though), so is he just a genuinely deluded director or actually knows the films he is making are rubbish and by making them is just mocking us all? Who knows, but with a budget of $100million Pompeii is a very expensive joke, but actually a genuinely funny one in my view. Though the laughs may be more AT than WITH (unless, like I said Anderson actually is intentionally making a bad film), it is impossible not to leave Pompeii without having a smile on one’s face. At a pleasingly lean 105 minutes, there is never a lull in the pace, whether it is (decently staged) fight sequences and then the utter destruction of Mount Vesuvius throwing everything at the residents of the city, as well at the screen.
Visually, the constant action set pieces do look the part, with Anderson going for broke (literally as the film is set to make a huge loss), and just in case we need reminding of the impending doom, we have a shot of the Volcano in the film’s first half every few minutes and minor tremor’s that shake the city hard, but are shrugged off very casually by the cast as they have character arcs to sort out. When the Volcano does erupt the 3D is actually noticeable, with plenty of ash falling, but does not justify the discomfort of having heavy glasses on the nose. Just in case we need reminding that we are watching a wannabe historical epic, we have Clinton Shorter’s slightly generic, but admittedly rousing and well put together score turned up almost as loud as the constant bangs and thuds. Trust me; it is impossible to nod off while watching Pompeii at the cinema, it is one very loud film.
The fact is that Mount Vesuvius is the most developed character of the narrative, as the film is ultimately a big budget spectacle, but it would be nice to have a little more emotional investment in the characters, though the bromance between Milo and Atticus is fun to watch. Performance wise, Kit Harrington broods and sulks suitably and certainly looks the part in his bondage gear, while Emily Browning pouts as the damsel in distress. The rest of the cast look like they are getting ready for panto season, especially Kiefer Sutherland whose bizarre accent means that every line of dialogue he says is quite simply hilarious. Though of course, any of the cast giving a career defining performance would make no difference, with the dialogue being so clunky it is credit to the cast that they managed to keep a straight face on screen, I know that throughout the entire film I could not stop laughing.
With a director at the helm not known for subtlety, Pompeii is exactly what it says on the tin. The reasons for why it is such a bad film are endless, but for those same reasons it is an immensely enjoyable, camp, hilarious and riotous romp of a film, and I compel anyone who watches this not to be entertained.