VESUVIUS ERUPTS, WHILE THE FILM SIMMERS
Powerful epic film of romance and history are appealing and carry a pronounced sense of a big budget scope and grandeur. Film director Paul W.S. Anderson has had string of mediocre and/or disappointing movies such as Aliens vs. Predator, Death Race, and The Three Musketeers to name a few. Now Anderson takes a step to the foray of epic films category with his newest movie titled Pompeii. Does this film rise above Anderson’s previous work or is the film doomed from the get-go like city of Pompeii itself?
In 79 A.D, a Celt child from Britannia named Milo (Kit Harington) witness his family and his people slaughtered by a Roman soldier named Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland). Surviving the onslaught and placed into slavery, Milo grew up and became fierce gladiator; going by the name “The Celt”. With his talents notice by Graecus (John Pinque), Milo and several other slaves are whisked away from the outskirts of the empire to the more prominent city of Pompeii. It is there that Milo meets Cassia (Emily Browning), a daughter to a noble family of Pompeii, and, by a chance encounter, falls in love with each other. Unfortunately for Milo, love and revenge go hand in hand as Corvus, now a powerful Roman Senator, comes to Pompeii to prose and deal to Cassia’s father and secretively win her heart. Yet, unbeknownst to them and the rest of the denizens of Pompeii, a great and primordial power that looms over of the city stirs from its slumber. Mount Vesuvius is about to erupt.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Given its grand scope and scenes from its trailers, Pompeii isn’t terrible movie; it just doesn’t deliver on all what could’ve been said and done with this ill-fated tale. In truth, the film is a blend of James Cameron’s Titanic and Riddely Scott’s Gladiator, pulling common elements and themes from these two memorable films, but to a lesser caliber.
With that being said, the story of the Pompeii plays out in a familiar sense of being more so predictable than original. You know the story; a love triangle consisting of a pair of star-crossed lovers (From different social classes) and an ambitious and villainous antagonist and a great disaster set before them that will test the strength and will of all three individuals. It’s both compelling work and thematically clichéd in storytelling, but can be astonishing and quite moving, if presented the right way. Pompeii tries to pull off admirably, but never reaches its intended climax of heavy hitting emotionally drama. The movie’s gladiatorial scenes are again good, feeling more grounded in reality like in Gladiator rather than flashy choreographed fighting like in Zack Snyder’s 300.
By the film’s second act, the main attraction of the film arrives with the eruption of Vesuvius as the film’s narrative of a love-triangle quickly shifts gears to a disaster mode with people fleeing here and there. A great sense of panic and terrifying fear is felt in this part of the film, but it doesn’t quite measure up to the true raw “Shock and Awe” feeling of people dying and crying out for help that was portrayed in Titanic. Pompeii’s visuals are what you expect them to be with the ground violently shaking and tearing asunder, volcanic fireballs from the mountain raining down on the city and its people, and tsunami-like waves crushing boats and flooding the city. There are not horrible per say; a couple of them are quite impressive, but it’s nothing new that raise the bar for visual effects in movie world like James Cameron’s Avatar.
Along with its visuals, Anderson seems like he wanted a big production in the film’s art department, which he achieves and conveys an appropriate look and feel in the costumes for the film’s characters, both major and minor ones, and in its various set designs (arenas, streets, villas) that make up the city of Pompeii. As a side note, the film’s music (scored by Clinton Shorter) is worth mention with rousing orchestral flourishes that proceed grandeur (most notably in the film’s opening scene that are accompanied by words from Phiny the Younger, one of the few recorded survivors from the disaster) and franticness as well as somber, heartfelt tones.
The acting for this movie is once again a mix bag that doesn’t elevate the story to a cinematic grandeur. Kit Harington, most famous for his role of Jon Snow in HBO’s Game of Thrones series, fairs well with the role of Milo. He’s physically fit to pull off all the action oriented scenes for his character and a sense for his character, but not in great depth. Personally, Harington is more suited for the role of Jon Snow, the bastard son of Eddard Stark, rather than Milo, the “Celt” Gladiator. Emily Browning fares lesser than Harington in the character of Cassia, who seems like a clichéd damsel-in-distress that doesn’t break new ground in the art of storytelling. Harington and Browning’s chemistry is somewhat conveyed on-screen, but again, nothing truly fantastic that will pluck on your heart strings.
In my opinion, Kiefer Sutherland fares the worst in the lead actors of Pompeii as the Roman senator Corvus. Some actors are better at period piece films, while others are stronger in more contemporary and modern movies. Sutherland is the latter choice, I believe, as he hams it up in Pompeii with his dialogue and his clichéd character persona. Just like I said with Harington, Sutherland is more suited in the role of his character of Jack Bauer from FOX’s 24 rather than a conniving senator from ancient Roman society. If Sutherland is the weakest in the film than Akinnuoye-Agbaje portrayal of Atticus, a gladiatorial slave that Milo befriends, is most likely strongest in the film. His physical presence is noted from onset to conclusion and, while his character is nothing truly original, his tale is appealing as viewers, just like me, will be rooting for his character of Atticus rather than Harington’s grim face of Milo. Rounding out the cast, respectfully, is Jared Harris and Carrie-Ann Moss (Trinity from the Matrix trilogy. Where have you been?) as Cassia’s father and mother.
Anderson’s Pompeii isn’t a bad film, but neither is it regarded as a great film. Its heavy CG visuals propels the movie forward, but its weak love story, miscast performances, and predictable plot pulls the movie back in the other direction. Those who like disaster movies, or sword and sandals flicks, or even ancient history will like Pompeii and appreciate it more so than others. All in all, the movie is okay and a fair choice in viewing as a adequate rental. Still, if you ever have the chance, visit Pompeii (I was very fortunate to do so), climb Mount Vesuvius, traverse its ruined streets, and gaze upon the few salvaged ash-covered bodies that truly capture one’s final moments when the world around you is crumbling and all hope has faded from existence.