By Mark Saldana
Rating: 2 (Out of 4 Stars)
To quote the classic comedy Airplane!, “Do you like movies about gladiators?” If the answer to this question is yes and one also enjoys rehashed romance plots, then perhaps this film shouldn’t be missed. However, I would not go into this movie expecting any originality from the writing. In fact the only reasons to go see this film would be the moderately fun action scenes and the well produced visual effects which the 3D does actually enhance. That said; does Pompeii deserve an audience member’s top dollar to see it? Probably not, but I suppose there are worse ways to spend time and money.
During 79 AD, while the Roman Empire reigned over many European lands, a Celtic gladiator named Milo (Kit Harington) proves himself as warrior capable of fighting champions. When Milo and his fellow gladiators are forced to fight in Pompeii before the visiting Senator Corvis (Kiefer Sutherland), Milo falls for Cassia (Emily Browning), the local businessman’s daughter whom Corvis intends to marry. While a romance heats up between Milo and Cassia, so does the gargantuan MountVesuvius which erupts and eventually wipes out the entire city below it.
Paul W.S. Anderson directs with a screenplay by Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler, Julian Fellowes and Michael Robert Johnson. The result is movie that has impressive visuals, but has mostly lousy writing. The plot plays out like a mashup of Gladiator and Titanic, but instead of having a sinking ship as a tragedy, this movie has an eruptive volcano. As I previously stated, originality in this film is scant. In addition to rehashed story elements, the movie has corny, cheesy, and hammy dialogue. All of the food groups associated with junk food cinema are ever present, but just are not all that flavorful. A few portions of the story actually entertain, and the battle scenes do offer some fun, but otherwise, the movie plays out laughably. I do applaud Anderson and his talented crew for the film’s astounding visuals and, for once, 3D effects that looks great.
A talented group of actors make up the cast, but are working with such lame material that their acting cannot salvage their scenes. Fans of the Game of Thrones TV series will enjoy Harington in the lead role as Milo, but will also probably feel that the actor deserves stronger material—no pun intended. The lovely Emily Browning has little to do, but look stunning, sweetly fawn for Milo, and give Corvis the firm attitude he deserves. Kiefer Sutherland, who often nails villainous performances with seemingly ease, actually falters here. He hams it up as the corrupt and wicked Roman senator, but often overdoes it and has a few laughable moments. Probably my favorite performance in the film comes from Adawale Akinnouye-Agbaje who portrays Milo’s rival gladiator Atticus. This guy’s presence alone radiates badassery, and the charismatic personality that he brings to his character makes him the most interesting character in the film.
Now to be fair, it probably is difficult to write an original gladiator picture. With so many others preceding this one, the idea of making Pompeii probably got sold on the promise to update visuals and effects and bring this genre into the modern age. Still, I prefer a bit more substance and creativity from movie writing, and if the producers of this movie hadn’t come up with a rehashed story and plot, I’d be singing the film’s praises right now. My recommendation is to stay home and watch films like Spartacus or Gladiator. If more interested in the romance angle of the film, watch Titanic or some other tragic love story. If one is a gladiator movie superfan and cannot stay away, then see this film as a matinee, because paying a full priced ticket would be spending too much. All this writing about gladiator movies makes me want to put on Airplane! right now.