Mark Reviews Movies

Pompeii

POMPEII

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Paul W.S. Anderson

Cast: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbake, Kiefer Sutherland, Jared Harris, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jessica Lucas, Joe Pingue, Currie Graham

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense battle sequences, disaster-related action and brief sexual content)

Running Time: 1:45

Release Date: 2/21/14


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Review by Mark Dujsik | February 27, 2014

Pompeii tells a story of star-crossed lovers, gladiatorial rebellion, and multiple grudges that are all temporarily interrupted when Mount Vesuvius erupts in a tower of ash, hurling fireballs upon, spreading earthquakes within, causing a tsunami through, and otherwise devastating the city of the title. The philosophy of the screenplay by Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler, and Michael Robert Johnson is that the problems of a handful of archetypes amount to a pretty sizeable hill of beans in a fiery, ash-filled world.

They do, and they don't. The movie's opening acts are serviceable in terms of making the story's romantic and political conflicts seem worthwhile, even if they essentially are lifted verbatim from other popular disaster and sword-and-sandal movies, and the ancient city of Pompeii itself is convincing as a combination of art and costume design complemented by computer-generated imagery. Once the volcano erupts, though, nothing about the drama changes, save for the fact that the character must occasionally dodge a flaming rock, outrun a tidal wave, or ride a horse faster than the cloud of pyroclastic flow—the hot gas and rock that preserved the final positions of so many victims of the eruption in those haunting plaster casts we've all seen and had seared into the collective memory of humankind.

Throughout the extended final act, we're not so much caught up in the various threads of conflict as we are left wondering why these characters don't simply abandon their relatively puny melodramas, if only for the basic goal of survival. Instead, the characters act as if there is not a legitimate, immediate threat to their very lives and go about their business of wooing, seeking revenge, or upholding their honor. The movie may feature a few odd moments before the pivotal disaster strikes, but once the volcano begins its deadly emissions, everything outside of the well-choreographed carnage is inherently dumb and ridiculous in the particulars of how the through lines of the plot progress over the course of the ensuing chaos.

The story begins in 62 A.D. with the slaughter of a tribe of Celtic horse warriors by Roman soldiers in the province of Britannia. Only a young boy survives, and 17 years later, that boy has grown up to become a successful gladiator who is transferred from the provincial capital city of Londinium to Pompeii because of his skill. His name is Milo (Kit Harington), but he's known primarily as "the Celt."

On the road to Pompeii, Milo and Cassia (Emily Browning), a lady of the city, meet cute over an injured horse, which Milo puts out of its misery by snapping its neck like a twig. Thus, in incredibly awkward fashion, is born the movie's central romance.

In Pompeii, Cassia's father Severus (Jared Harris) has invited Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) from Rome to discuss an investment in improving the city's infrastructure. Corvus, naturally, is the man who led the killing of Milo's people and also an insistent suitor of Cassia.

From this information, one should quite easily figure out how the rest of the story until Vesuvius blows its top goes. Milo wants revenge against Corvus, who extorts Cassia's hand in marriage from Severus through the promise of a business deal. Corvus is jealous of Cassia's obvious feelings for Milo and wants him killed. The people of Pompeii are upset with the power of Rome and close to open revolt. It all comes to a climax in the city's amphitheater during a gladiator match.

Then the volcano awakens. The ground of the amphitheater collapses, and even still, Milo and the surviving gladiators keep fighting for their freedom, which seems sort of a given when their owner hightails it out of the city in a litter carried by other slaves (His orders that they carry him faster are amusing). Milo must save Cassia from the villa where she has retreated to safety; that it's at the base of the volcano defeats that plan. There are man-to-man fights with fists and swords, including one between Milo's comrade-in-arms Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and Corvus' bodyguard (Currie Graham)—two men who strangely don't throw down their weapons after coming to a realization that neither has a personal stake in the fight between the main characters. There's even a chase sequence on a chariot and a horse through the smoky streets of Pompeii.

It's not convincing, which it too bad, considering that Anderson's orchestration of the bigger-picture destruction is—and effectively so. Granted, some of the special effects are of questionable quality, but that only happens when during close-ups of actors against green screens. Otherwise, the scale of the devastation, especially the use of long overhead shots to follow the swelling and surging of the tsunami that strikes the city, and the visual effects used to convey it are impressive.

The story and characters surrounding the city and its eventual decimation, though, are far too generic for the movie to have any more of an impact beyond admiration of its technical aspects. Pompeii may accurately communicate the tragedy of this disaster on a sensory level, but it is ultimately just sound and fury.

Copyright © 2014 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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