Kit Harington as Milo
Emily Browning as Cassia
Kiefer Sutherland as Corvus
Sasha Roiz as Proculus
Jean Frenette as Boss Slaver
Joe Pingue as Graecus
Currie Graham as Bellator
Ron Kennell as The Weasel
Jessica Lucas as Ariadne
Carrie-Anne Moss as Aurelia
Jared Harris as Severus
Dalmar Abuzeid as Felix
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Atticus
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
What “Pompeii” has in production design and disaster effects, it lacks in originality as it borrows heavily from “Titanic” and “Gladiator.” However, if you have a teen that wants to be entertained for a couple of hours and they aren’t familiar with those other movies, this will work.
In 79 A.D., Milo is a slave to the Roman Empire. As a Celtic child in Britannia, he witnessed the slaughter of his parents and all of his people by the Roman soldier Corvus. Now years later, he’s forced to fight as a gladiator in their games. Known as “The Celt,” he catches the eye of Graecus with his talents as a fighter. Graecus then decides to take Milo back to the gladiator major leagues as a fighter in the Roman resort town of Pompeii.
Under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, Milo encounters Cassia, the daughter of a prominent leader of Pompeii. They quickly fall for each other, but just when it seems the gods have given Milo happiness, they also offer up another temptation revenge. Corvus arrives in Pompeii in order to make a deal with Cassia’s father and Milo sees an opportunity to avenge his people. However, disaster looms for all of them as the nearby volcano prepares to explode.
“Pompeii” is rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences, disaster-related action and brief sexual content.
In the summer of 2013, I got my long awaited chance to visit the ruins of Pompeii in person. The site is incredible, because it is not simply a pile of rubble like many other Roman archeological sites. You can see the streets, the shops, the gladiator training areas, and the general layout of the city. You see the colorful art on frescos, beautifully tiled floors, fountains, and intricately carved decorations. You also see the castings of the bodies of people that died there. It’s like the ghosts of the people still linger and it makes it seem more like a real town and less like a museum. I also got to hike along the rim of Mount Vesuvius with my kids. So it was with great interest that I wanted to check out “Pompeii.” How much would it get right? And could it bring that epic disaster to life on the big screen?
Looking at the commercials, I wasn’t terribly hopeful. I was expecting “300” with a volcano, but as the movie started, I was happy to discover that’s not what it was at all. It wasn’t the hyper-stylized cartoon format of “300,” instead it was more of a straight drama. The fighting was over the top, but not nearly to the degree of those other films. It is more akin to “Gladiator” in style than “300” or “Clash of the Titans.” So that made me a lot more open to it.
And while they definitely did put the Hollywood spin on a lot of the history, they still got a lot more right than I was expecting. It’s clear that the production designer at least visited Pompeii for inspiration. You see large stepping stones in the streets that were made for chariots to pass over. You see the market area and food stands. You see the temples and statues. There are a lot of accurate details here. Where they depart, they at least still get Roman architecture more or less correct. There was no large coliseum at Pompeii, but the one they show looks generally accurate. Pompeii is also a lot smaller than they show in the film, although all of this is forgivable if it gets people interested in reading up on Roman history.
As for the acting, it’s OK. Kit Harington does his best as Milo. He’s in the physical shape for the role and teen girls will definitely swoon over him, however he lacks moments to let his personality shine through. Emily Browning acts her heart out as Cassia. She’s hampered by the fact that her character is written like a modern girl thrown into the Roman world. She attends the gladiator games while protesting them as barbaric the whole time. That makes her character a bit less convincing, but any teen girls watching this will identify with her. Cassia represents their target demographic well. The main standout is Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Atticus. He provides much of the comic relief, he keeps the action going in the gladiator games, and he’s about the only one that acts heroically when Vesuvius finally explodes. Without him, this film would have been much flatter than it already is. Carrie-Anne Moss also stars as Aurelia, though it’s a little hard to see her bullied by Corvus when you want to see her kick his butt as Trinity.
The visual effects are good, but not a lot we haven’t seen before. We’ve seen CG volcanoes, tsunamis, and exploding rocks. So while it makes decent disaster porn, it’s not going to blow you away (no pun intended). The 3D effect does help a little to make the plumes of ash spewing from the volcano look bigger. It also helps add a cool effect of depth in the screen when smoking rocks leave trails in the sky. But it’s not essential for viewing.
What Didn’t Work:
As much as I’m fascinated by the real world Pompeii, I have to recognize that the movie “Pompeii” has almost nothing original going for it. It lifts almost beat for beat the basic story from “Titanic” as you have a couple of star-crossed lovers briefly fall in love in the face of an impending disaster. You have a lower class male falling for an upper class female. You have an upper class villain that wants the girl for himself. You have the hero and the villain fighting to the death in the middle of the disaster when they should probably be running for safety. It’s all the same, just with a volcano instead of a sinking ship. If copying “Titanic” wasn’t enough, this also lifts heavily from “Gladiator.” The whole story of Milo rising in the gladiator ranks is very similar to that of Maximus. Even the major gladiator fight in the coliseum is choreographed very similarly. Then you have Atticus, who is very much like Djimon Hounsou as Juba. Yet as much as it borrows from those great movies, it’s still pretty flat. I think if you had never seen “Gladiator” or “Titanic,” then “Pompeii” might seem like a good movie to you. But considering that this PG-13 disaster film seems to be aimed at teens that are dropped off at the theater by their parents, they probably haven’t seen those movies and they actually will enjoy it.
As epic as the explosion of Mount Vesuvius is, the miscasting is equally epic. I like Kiefer Sutherland, but he’s absolutely the wrong choice to play Corvus. He seems to ham it up in every scene and he’s not terribly menacing, either. Seeing him dressed in Roman armor and parading around sets on horseback just seems wrong. His accent doesn’t fit in either. Some of the characters have British accents. Some have American accents. Some have faux-British accents. They’re completely inconsistent, so it somewhat detracts from trying to convince us they’re all ancient Romans.
The Bottom Line:
“Pompeii” is not a bad movie. In fact, it was a lot better than I was expecting. It’s just not a great one. This film is more of a renter or something to watch on cable TV at a later date.