Release: Friday, February 21, 2014
No warning. No escape. No plot. No problem. . .
. . .at least, to an extent. The thing about disaster films is that not a great deal is expected out of them, so it’s a little difficult to believe anyone who says they left the theater having seen one and felt nothing but disappointment. Were these people expecting some profound statement on the human condition whilst entire populations descended into chaos, or that certain and total annihilation metaphorically signaled “the beginning of something new” for all those involved?
Expectation levels for the genre are (or should be) uniformly pretty low: as long as big shit explodes in spectacular fashion, and a cute guy has a chance to meet (and maybe even finally kiss) a cute gal, everyone should go home happy. The forced romance that appears in virtually every story involving a natural catastrophe proves these sorts of things aren’t the entertainment one seeks out for a cerebral exercise. By that token its also proof that disaster films are orgies in which the eyeball gets to participate.
But for Pompeii, I’m going to play devil’s advocate and risk undermining everything I just have argued for above. This film had real potential to rise above the smoldering ashes of typical special effects-laden action films. Is this the one that can buck the trend?
Given that this one is based on real events and that its first half concerns itself with the lives of slaves who are converted into bloodthirsty gladiators, there was hope. However, a certain level of dissatisfaction comes from the fact that the solitary goal of the film then becomes showing how destructive Mother Nature can be by building up a romance and destroying it just as quickly. If we can’t appreciate that an entire city is about to be scorched into the ground (literally) perhaps there’s a chance we feel empathy towards a young love about to go down in flames. . . . (Sorry for the pun. I was actually really hoping to keep this one free of those, but. . . guess not.)
Milo (Kit Harington) bore witness to his entire family and townspeople’s butchering as a wee lad, at the hands of the terrible Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) and Proculus (Sasha Roiz). Subsequently sold into slavery as an orphan, Milo would know no other life than misery. That’s until a horse changes everything. That’s right, a horse. No, not the Trojan thing that tricked a bunch of stupid people into lowering their guard, but the kind that falls over when the carriage it’s pulling hits a convenient pothole in the dirt road. Milo requests that he be let off the chain to help the horse and get the high-ranking officials, including the token girl Cassia (Emily Browning), on their way to the festival that’s ongoing in the beautiful bay area of Pompeii, a town tucked into the foothills of an ominous-looking volcano — Mt. Vesuvius.
Milo’s single act of kindness scores him some brownie points with the beautiful daughter of Pompeii’s ruler Severus (Jared Harris) and wife, Aurelia (Carrie-Anne Moss), a development intended to create the romantic heartbeat of this ill-fated story. However, this is a woefully underdeveloped relationship that distracts from an otherwise action-packed affair. It’s so poorly realized in fact, that in one fell swoop my theory is confirmed that the only two things needed in the disaster film are dramatic explosions that cause bystanders to go flying into things that you really don’t want to go flying into, and the compulsory romance element. But this is a romance without romance at all. It doesn’t help that neither the acting nor the script are very sturdy.
What’s more to the point here, though, is that director Paul W.S. Anderson chooses to introduce historical weight to the proceedings and then bails on the idea at the last second. Gladiator battles may extend into the ending moments, but they exist at this point just as an excuse to show the badassery set against an even more badass backdrop. Watching Milo (a.k.a. ‘The Celt’) duke it out with his sworn enemies in Corvus and Proculus while fireballs are falling like bombs around them is entertaining to a certain degree. But the fighting is academic knowing that this mountain has just blown its top.
Other options Anderson might have explored include the politics of Roman Emperor Titus (who never makes an appearance in the film) and how the town of Pompeii is directly impacted by them; or how about the devastation and its impact on the Roman empire? Even the nature of Milo and Cassie’s so-called love affair and how it goes against the grain of relationships in this hostile society could have been intriguing if we were shown specifically why it was a forbidden love and not just told that it was so. For all of the attention the director gives Harrington and Browning, he doesn’t know how to make them matter in the slightest. Hence the disappointingly quiet conclusion.
With that said, it’s a simple-minded outing and because it is, there shouldn’t be much of a surprise that Pompeii is nothing more than middling. The marketing for the film blasted any hopes of this being an accurate rendering of a terrifying time in Italy’s colorful history. When the promotional poster features a couple kissing before an erupting giant like Mt. Vesuvius, we knew we were being duped before the duping officially began. All the same, the film upholds at least part of the bargain: the action sequences are intense. When the volcano decides to rain all over everyone’s parade (or Senator Corvus’ rigged gladiator battle, if you rather) the action is relentless until the end. As well, the sparring and fighting earns its keep, even despite the glaring lack of blood and gore that should accompany any gladiator fight.
So the disaster film that is Pompeii is ultimately predictable and frustratingly lackluster in equal doses but it finds a way to maintain interest in the action/adrenaline department. As well, the eruption effects are impressive. This is no Dante’s Peak, Volcano or other volcanic activity-related films whose CGI now look embarrassing by comparison.
Recommendation: Genre fans will find the last half of the film quite entertaining, but even these folks are sure to find the many cracks in the story disappointing, maybe even irritating. Given the set-up in the first hour, the climax is less than it should be, considering we know what exactly awaits this town when the mountain/gods eventually lose its/their temper. This is a pretty easy one to avoid, at least until it becomes available for streaming.
Running Time: 98 mins.
Quoted: “The slave that lives earns their freedom.”
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Photo credits: http://www.impawards.com; http://www.imdb.com
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Yeahhh, had a feeling it would be about this rating (great review btw), but being a massive fan of pretty much every guilty pleasure Paul W.S. Anderson has served up so far (Resident Evils, Soldier, Event Horizon, Three Musketeers…) I’ll still be seeing this as soon as I can.
Its important to mix some mindless popcorn movies in with the good stuff.
Hey Jordan, yeah I completely agree! It’s great to mix it up. Pompeii really offered some fun here and there, the action spectacle was mostly everything I was hoping for but the romantic element was shamelessly tacked on. Perhaps if it was developed better there’d be more of a reason for it to exist. Even still, I can’t imagine this not putting a smile on your face when you’re in the right mood for it.
Thanks for stopping by man
A film that makes Dante’s Peak look good? Oh snappppppppp crackle…. burn?
That IS a burn. Ass. I luv Dante’s Peak. 😉
Actually I do, despite everything I just said being seriously sarcastic. It’s not a great film (this one is worse) but you can’t tell me that compound-fracture that Harry Dalton suffers in the end of Dante’s Peak isn’t amazing. That disturbed me for awhile as a young lad
Boredom lead to a bud and I watching this today. I agree with your assessment, and my eventual review of it will be more or less the same. The honest truth though, is that while it could have been loads better in every single department, specifically the script and dialogue, and needing of a new director, Pompeii actually managed to be entertaining. I was never bored, and while crap was shoved onto the screen at times, we found it funny, never dull.
When a character met his demise during a battle in the arena at the end, a little kid shouted, “NOOOOOOOOOOOOO”, making it even more of a riot. A movie so bad that it is good? I think this may qualify. Under the right hands, this could have actually been really good. The romance was handled terribly on just about every level. Your hot, I’m hot, we are in love. Although I’d imagine Emily Browning would be quite easy to fall in love with, despite the fact that Jessica Lucas gives her major competition.
Yeah I pretty much agree with what you say in every way. It was laughably bad at times, compelling during others. The worst part of it was the underdeveloped/unnecessary romance. I’m left wondering how much better this would have been without that forced awkward intimacy (actually, it never even really got to that, which was maybe a good thing?). It was as if the director was saying, “Hey, you may not care or know anything about the rest of this civilization, but here are a couple of really good looking people who are going to be doomed, so maybe you will care now.” And then the volcano goes boom. And he hopes we cry.
I cried. Tears of laughter. lol
Ha ha. Love that first line. Saw the trailer and gotta say it looked all over the place.
Cheers sir, the tagline brought it upon itself. What a silly affair. I did enjoy a lot of it, but. . .yeah, you won’t be missing much if you choose to skip it. Unfortunately, though, the parts that are bad are not bad enough to be funny, so when it’s bad it’s just lame. haha!
Nice review man. I have to say, I am still kind of interested in seeing this. If I am in for something utterly mindless over the next few weeks, might try and catch this on the big screen.
i’d say give it a whirl. You might find it pleasantly enjoyable as I did. Just had real potential to actually be something more, which was a frustration I was prepared to face.
Was going to see this the other night. Got home from work, checked the session times for the three cinemas I frequent. And it is not playing at any of them. Was a bit of a surprise, especially seeing as one of them had been advertising it.
That’s frustrating isn’t it? I guess that speaks to the quality of the picture! Lol. Australia may know what’s good for their audiences 😉
This looked awful, BUT it was surprisingly entertaining. Not great, mind you, but I really enjoyed Kiefer Sutherland and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje in this. Good fun!
Me too! I enjoyed the gladiator sequences quite a bit actually, wish he could have done/said more with those parts. Sutherland was suitably villainous. I have no idea why Carrie-Anne Moss was in this, though. She seemed a bit throwaway. I think my favorite actor was Mt. Vesuvius. . .
Good review Tom. For the longest time, it’s dull and rather boring. But once that volcano erupts and, dare I say it, people start dying, it gets a whole lot more fun, energetic and actually, interesting.
Thanks Dan. The dull and boring parts had potential. I really think Anderson could have made a more political jab with the gladiatorial scenes and those action bits at the beginning were pretty jarring, actually. But yeah it wasn’t anything compared to when the volcano erupted, which definitely felt like that’s the one thing we were all sitting around waiting for. Not a great movie when you feel like, eh?
Yep, this one does not look very impressive. And the director has far from a good reputation, considering what he did to my beloved Resident Evil series. Love the games, but have ignored the movies! Do filmmakers know that it is 2014? With huge budgets, top of the line special effects, and talented actors…….WHY DO ALL THESE MOVIES SUCK? With the exception of the phenomenal The Lego Movie, and to a lesser extent, About Last Night.
(P.S. Where do you get your pictures from? If you do not mind me asking!)
For the most part I take the photos from Rotten Tomatoes. If that page doesn’t have the greatest selection, I’ll browse Google. I think one time I actually lifted a photo from a blog I follow hahah.
I have to say I did actually enjoy the very first Resident Evil but I was also not so engrossed in the source material before watching it, so I can see where Anderson may have let you down there. To me, it was a pretty eerie/kick-ass action flick. But yes, on the whole I’d have to say this is a director I necessarily will be excited about in the future. Even if he makes a film with a dancing gay cucumber
*I won’t necessarily be excited about, that is. 🙂
Oh really? I am a big wuss when it comes to using pictures. Although I don’t think they’d care much. I hope to get my blog up on that site someday….
The first one was decent enough, but anything after went into awful territory! Laughed out loud at the last line. I think I’d watch that…..
Great review, Tom. About what I expected from this one, really. As you say, the posters and trailers basically tell us what Pompeii is going to be up to. 🙂
It’s quite the predictable affair that I was hoping it wasn’t going to be. I even tried to argue here that some predictability is very much acceptable just as long as there is a little bit of substance to back that up. But, unfortunately aside from pretty impressive CGI on the volcano, the substance was pretty slight. Mind you, for a February release we could do much, much worse.
Nice write up Tom. I wasn’t even aware of this for some reason. Not sure I’ll be checking it out though, it’s the forced romances in these kinda films that do my head in. If stuff’s blowing up left, right and centre I’m not sure getting my end away will be at the top of my priority list! 🙂
Thanks buddy. I was very mixed on this, as, apparently my review was. hahah. I actually loved the final 45ish minutes of this but the beginning actually led me to believe (foolishly) that there was going to be some more substance involved. The acting wasn’t terrible (see: Kiefer Sutherland) but the romantic element was so badly done it blew its chances of being an. . e-hem. . .explosive film. 😉
And so it passes