From the screenwriting duo behind the widely ridiculed Batman Forever, and the director of the Resident Evil movie franchise, comes Pompeii, a stale explosion of grand proportions. Like a poor man’s pastiche of Roland Emmerich’s memorable oeuvre, this is a disaster movie and sweeping romance all rolled into one ambitious epic. Picture a key episode of the undervalued television show Spartacus, but take away the bloody violence, the self aware campy scene-chewing, the detailed sets, the blood boiling steamy carnal action, and add an exceedingly slowly erupting volcano, and you get ‘Pompeii’.
Tragically, for the audience of this tiresome movie, the script demands that the actors take this preposterous tale far too seriously. They far too often end up looking lost, amid the cheap looking 3D CGI sets and effects surrounding them. With an eclectic cast that includes Kiefer Sutherland and the inimitable Jared Harris, this Gladiator-lite movie had explosive potential, but fails to erupt.
It starts promisingly enough, with an extended epilogue detailing the slaughter of the Celts by the cunningly brutish Roman leader Corvus (played far too straight, and with a ludicrous British accent by Kiefer Sutherland). The proceedings are witnessed by a suddenly-orphaned wide-eyed moppet, who is later sold into captivity and, years after, trained to be a swashbuckling gladiator. Before the audience glimpses his face, however, the camera lingers on Milo (Kit Harington, of Game of Thrones fame) and his toned abdominals and bulging biceps, which seem to be this personality-free leading man’s defining features.
During his shackled trip to Pompeii, he encounters the beautiful Cassia (Emily Browning, who seems to favour all style no-substance fare such as ‘Sucker Punch’ and ‘Sleeping Beauty’), whose horse has just mysteriously fallen gravely ill. As a slave who is inexplicably educated, Milo gently puts the horse out of its misery and leaves a lasting impression on Cassia and her female companion, (who, just in case the audience forgets, points out Milo’s impeccable physique). Cassia is on a return voyage to Pompeii, after spending a frustrating year in Rome rebuffing now-Senator Corvus’ advances. Not one to be rejected, Corvus follows her to Pompeii, and strikes up a self-benefitting plan with her parents (the criminally underused Carrie-Ann Moss and Jared Harris), who are unaware that she is smitten with Milo. Meanwhile, in the bowels of the arena, Milo befriends champion fighter Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, the sole actor to brilliantly rise above this putrid material), who also coincidentally has an axe to grind with the Romans. By the time Mount Vesuvius explodes, (which somehow comes as a tremendous shock to all), audience members will be wishing for the chemistry-less romantic duo to meet their fiery demise.
Do yourself a favour, don’t Pompeii to see this disaster.