In Paul W.S. Anderson’s latest, the final days of Pompeii are re-imagined as the backdrop for a pair of tragic lovers, one of whom happens to be prized fighter.
And so, from the director-producer who gave us the Resident Evil movies and AVP: Alien vs. Predator, one of history’s worst calamity’s becomes a movie mashup of Titanic’s doomed love and Gladiator’s sword-and-sandal arena combat, with an erupting volcano as the central — and most interesting — character.
The focus of this disaster drama is two young, attractive leads: Kit Harington as Milo, an enslaved gladiator with a grudge against the Romans, and Emily Browning as Cassia, the daughter of Pompeii’s ruler, who also has a grudge against the Romans.
They meet outside the city of Pompeii after Milo displays his horse-whispering abilities when one of the equines drawing Milo’s carriage breaks its leg. He’s in chains. She’s a noble. And naturally their social status doesn’t matter when they look into each other’s eyes.
The pair’s love blossoms even more over their mutual hatred of the same Roman leader, a former general-turned corrupt senator named Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) who is responsible for the death of Milo’s Celtic family and is now forcing Milo to marry him by threatening to kill her family.
In this Titanic love triangle, Sutherland is playing the Billy Zane-as-heavy-handed antagonist role, although one who’s dangerous with swords and far more politically ambitious. As with most of the principals in this predictable script, Corvus is a one-dimensional character that does little more than advance the familiar plot.
Harington (Game of Thrones) counters the script’s ham-fisted dialogue with a colorful and engaging presence, though Browning (Sucker Punch) is mostly called upon to be dull and sullen, even as Cassia is falling madly in love. It doesn’t help that the actors are given little screen time to stoke the romance between their characters. Unlike Titanic, which spent two hours fueling the passion between its two star-crossed lovers, Pompeii affords Milo and Cassia about an hour to convince audiences these are two passionately in love 20-somethings willing to risk everything for each other.
In a pivotal moment of Pompeii, for instance, they flee the Roman guards on horseback with each other. It’s his chance at freedom and her chance to escape Corvus; however, considering they’ve yet to even share a kiss, is there anything other than base attraction and mutual desperation to their relationship?
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson.
Screenplay by Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler, et al.
A Tristar release., playing at Franklin Park, Fallen Timbers, and Levis Commons.
Rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences, disaster-related action, and brief sexual content.
Running time: 105 minutes.
Critic’s rating: ★★
Cast: Kit Harington, Kiefer Sutherland, Emily Browning, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jared Harris.
For those movie moments that aren’t dedicated to the fledgling love affair for the early ages, Pompeii offers Milo in gory arena combat along with fierce gladiator foe-turned friend Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), who brings some spark and fun to the film. There’s also a bit of politics thrown in as well, with Cassia’s parents, Severus (Jared Harris) and Aurelia (Carrie-Anne Moss), concerned with Corvus providing them the financial backing to build a new arena and other amenities. As with Sutherland, most every recognizable name in the cast is better than what they’ve been given, though they never share that knowing wink with the audience.
And really, all their efforts are time fillers, anyway, until the big moment arrives and Mount Vesuvius erupts, a disaster unfurled in furious waves of serviceable CGI explosions, earthquakes, tidal waves, and rampant destruction for about half of the movie. It’s then that the actors are tasked with alternately not dying and dying for the remainder of the film.
Even if you don’t know the true history behind the destruction of Pompeii in 79 AD, it doesn’t take much to know this isn’t going to end well. The coastal resort of Pompeii was nestled in the shadow of the massive volcano, and when Mount Vesuvius erupted, there was little time for anyone to escape its fiery onslaught. Yet even as their world is literally coming apart, Milo and Corvus often seem unconcerned about the raging destruction around them, taking their time, for instance, to pay respects to the fallen and to talk rather calmly about escaping the city. Meanwhile, pieces of molten rock are raining down from the sky, which has turned black-red from the smoke and fiery ash. This all makes for a pretty backdrop for the ensuing chases and rescues, battles to the death, and declarations of love.
None of it makes sense, of course. But in a film where an erupting volcano is the real star, could anything more be expected?
Contact Kirk Baird at firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6734.