Starring: Kit Harington (Game of Thrones), Emily Browning (Sucker Punch), Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Lost), Jared Harris (Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows), Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix), Kiefer Sutherland (24)
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil)
Writers: Janet Scott Batchler & Lee Batchler (Batman Forever) and Michael Robert Johnson (Sherlock Holmes)
Runtime: 1 hour 45 minutes
Release Date: 21 February (US), 30 April (UK)
Films based around real events are tricky, doubly so when those events are very well known so everyone knows how it ends, and quadruply so when that ending is “everyone dies” (don’t you dare say that’s a spoiler). Pompeii is all of these things, and it would take truly deft hands to manage to make a film like this enthralling and worthwhile. Unfortunately, Paul W.S. Anderson lacks those hands.
The story of Pompeii is so simple and derivative, it can be summed up in no more words than it would take to do an elevator pitch: it’s Gladiator meets Titanic. No need for more than that. Just take all the major elements from those two films, mash them together, and fill in the blanks with other clichés. That is it. It feels this script was written to cash in on the success of those two Best Picture winners, but it’s been made way too late for it to be relevant. Everything in this film is taken wholesale from other better movies that you’ve most likely seen, but without any semblance of depth or investment. You spend most of the movie going through drab, uninteresting drama just waiting for that volcano to finally go off, and if you forget it’s there the filmmakers have been kind enough to ominously cut to it every ten minutes or so to remind you “Oh yeah. It’s coming.” The film at least moves at a decent clip, making sure your boredom is short-lived.
A film as generic as this could be carried by some strong lead performances, but Pompeii can’t even muster that much. Kit Harington is already one of the weaker links on Game of Thrones, but as a leading man here he is just terrible. His stone-faced demeanour and emotionless voice add nothing to a character that is already as uninteresting as a water biscuit. Faring even worse is Emily Browning, who seems to be playing a doll whose been magically brought to life but lacks a human soul. I don’t know; it’s only explanation I could come up with that explained her painfully wooden delivery. Her and Harington completely lack chemistry, not helped by the fact that these star-crossed lovers barely share three scenes together before disaster strikes. Kiefer Sutherland is at least interestingly bad, hamming it up to dangerously high Jeremy Irons-levels of scenery chewing, playing a bad guy so unquestionably evil that all he’s missing is a scene where he kills a henchman who “failed him for the last time”. Only two actors escape out of this disaster somewhat respectfully. The first is Jared Harris, mainly because he looks confident and dignified enough to make this tripe sound convincing. The other is the great Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (names like that make me glad these reviews are written, not spoken), who manages to provide the only pieces of humanity this film has. Sure, he’s basically playing the exact same character Djimon Hounsou played in Gladiator, but he’s convincing enough in the part that the film gains a small amount of credibility whenever he’s on screen.
I will give Anderson this much: he does have a decent understand of the technical stuff. The film looks fine on a cinematography level, if a bit generic. The editing can be choppy, especially during fight scenes, but is otherwise OK. The music is a bit repetitive but does give it a good sense of scale, and the production design is colourful and sets the scene well. The special effects department is clearly where the money went on the picture, as all the stuff with the volcano and the destruction caused by it does look pretty nice. But without a solid foundation, all of these details feel like a fine curtain used to mask a shoddy product.
Pompeii is bad, but not at all in the interesting way. It’s derivative and tedious, without an original thought in its head on any level. The story is bland, the acting is stiff, and the dialogue is laughable. Paul W.S. Anderson isn’t a completely talentless hack, he’s made some entertaining movies in his time like the genuinely creepy Event Horizon and the enjoyably cheesy Mortal Kombat (still the best video game movie ever), but too often he ends up making uninspired dreck like this. Skip this movie, because more than likely you’ve already seen a much better version of it.
FINAL VERDICT: 2.5/10