Watching this film brings to mind several iconic pop-cultural references. Pink Floyd’s non-concert concert film Live in Pompeii, for instance. How young they all looked! Roger Waters and Dave Gilmour with long, long hair walk the empty amphitheatre holding up their guitars like gladiators all set to conquer the music arena. The fantastic ruins and eerie silence create a mesmeric soundscape for the band’s psychedelic sound. The grinning skull mosaic preserved from the ancient disaster site at the start of ‘Careful with that Axe Eugene’ seemed so apt.
Pompeii reminds one of Baron Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1834 novel, The Last Days of Pompeii. The book was inspired by a Russian painting in Milan (sounds very Joseph Heller-esque) and in turn inspired many movies and television shows. Pompeii takes some elements from Sergio Leone’s 1959 adaptation of the novel including the climatic gladiatorial games and the leads meeting over an out-of-control chariot. The Christian element is written out and instead of the Greek Glaucus, you have Milo, a rebellious Celt.
Kit Harington, who plays Milo, seems to have stepped out of his Jon Snow avatar from Game of Thrones into another fight — not between the Lannisters and Starks but between the Romans and Celts. You could think of the many end-of-days movies Pompeii is inspired by, throw in a dash of star-crossed lovers from Titanic and spare a thought for the poor petrified doggie among the ruins of the city.
The fact that you can think of so many things while Pompeii is playing indicates that the happenings on screen are not particularly captivating. Clichés careen across the screen colliding with improbabilities, hammy acting and atrocious dialogues.
Milo is this slave-turned-gladiator who is the last surviving Celt from his village. The evil Roman (Keifer Sutherland) who slaughtered his parents and people is back in Pompeii sneering and up to no good as he casts lascivious glances at the comely Cassia. She, however, is already making cow’s eyes at Milo because of how he broke a horse’s neck. “That was the kindest thing to do,” she says tremulously with bosom heaving. There is noble African savage, Atticus, who was promised his freedom after this one last fight. Carrie-Ann Moss as Cassia’s mom is weepy (What a fall there was Trinity!).
Remember to finish all your mind wandering before the final battle because then Pompeii moves into fourth gear and is the greatest fun. Director Paul W. S. Anderson (Resident Evil) does know to set up a fight sequence. And once the Vesuvius starts erupting in right earnest after grumbling through the film (for bad acting I suppose) Pompeii is eye-popping. The 3D is used to excellent effect with ash, lava and ginormous tidal waves laying waste the city.
The third act emphatically redeems Pompeii. Yay!
Genre: Historical /Action
Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
Cast: Kit Harington, Keifer Sutherland, Carrie Ann Moss
Storyline: Gladiator and Braveheart face off on the Titanic
Bottomline: Cheap thrills courtesy Mt Vesuvius