Movie Information

The Story: Cheesy melodrama plays out against the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. The Lowdown: It's a dumb disaster picture — with OK CGI disaster effects — made that much worse by lackluster leads and a bad script.
Genre: Sword-and-Sandal Nonsense
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil)
Starring: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Carrie-Anne Moss, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kiefer Sutherland, Jared Harris
Rated: PG-13

There are many valuable lessons to be learned from Paul W.S. Anderson’s Pompeii, but for me, the biggest was the realization that I can’t watch this kind of ancient-world hooey without wishing I was watching Richard Lester’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966), which is funnier, has songs and is more honest. (The same thing happened when I recently had to slog through the 1963 Cleopatra.) Otherwise, the biggest lesson here is that it is unwise to build your city at the foot of a volcano. This might seem self-evident, but it was not so obvious to the city planners involved here. The message, however, is clear: Don’t do it, unless you want your city turned into fodder for bad disaster movies. Other points of educational value include the fact that ancient Britons spoke like modern Brits, while ancient persons of color tended to speak like Reggae stars. Ancient Romans, on the other hand, spoke like Royal Academy of Dramatic Art grads, unless they’re played by accent-free Carrie-Anne Moss or unable-to-classify Kiefer Sutherland. These things are not taught in schools, so appreciate them.

Of course, the whole reason for this movie is to watch a lot of CGI-death-and-destruction as Mount Vesuvius erupts all over the city of Pompeii — a kind of ancient Italian seaside resort. The film presumes you know this is in the offing, but in case you don’t, the poster features a beefy gladiator and his slit-skirted squeeze in what would seem an ill-advised clinch while Pompeii is destroyed. In fact, Mr. Anderson even teases us with a shot of Vesuvius bubbling away in its crater. (Anderson probably thinks this is foreshadowing.) That, unfortunately, doesn’t mean that we don’t have to wade through about an hour of plot, intrigue and romance — punctuated by the volcano’s gastric rumblings — to get to the main event. I would not call it time well spent.

All of this, with its improbably pretty — albeit undoubtedly smelly — people, would have been far less tedious if it didn’t take itself seriously. But, oh, does it ever. The film is both a revenge yarn and a romance. The revenge comes in the form of our strapping gladiator hero, Milo (Kit Harrington from TV’s Game of Thrones), who wants to get back at evil Roman Senator Corvus (Sutherland), who ordered Milo’s people slaughtered back in Britain. Milo is being transferred to Pompeii as gladiatorial entertainment when he meets female lead Cassia (Emily Browning, Sucker Punch). Her carriage has a mishap injuring one of her horses, and Milo wins her heart when he snaps the ailing horse’s neck with one twist of his large and sinewy muscles. This would play better if both Harrington and Browning weren’t so completely lacking in charisma. And it would be easier to take any of it without groaning if the dialogue didn’t include things like, “Why so serious?” and “Kill them! Kill them all!”

Oh, there’s more, but who cares? We’re waiting for that lava to flow. And when it does, it’s good enough at doing what it does as it oozes and belches its way to its grim ending. I will note that Ignatiy Vishnevetsky — a critic I admire, even if I have trouble spelling his name — makes a fairly solid case for placing Pompeii within Anderson’s oeuvre. In itself, this suggests that Anderson perhaps deserves the title of auteur. That, however, should serve to remind us that auteur status doesn’t mean that the films are any damned good, merely that they bear a distinct directorial signature. Always remember that Ed Wood was an auteur, too. Rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences, disaster-related action and brief sexual content.

Playing at Carmike 10, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande.

About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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15 thoughts on “Pompeii

  1. Jeremy Dylan

    And it would be easier to take any of it without groaning if the dialogue didn’t include things like, “Why so serious?”

    Is it said in the Heath Ledger/Tom Waits Joker voice?

  2. drseruzawa

    *Sigh*. These things make me long for the days of “Epic Volcano Movies” filmed in David’s backyard with a foot tall clay “volcano” and lots of caramel lava. And plastic dinosaurs and army men being inundated. We called it something original like “The Army vs Dinosaurs”. I think that was a bit more honest too.

    Tell me. Are there scenes where people come within inches of being inundated but manage to escape? I love those. As if you could get within 100 yards of a real lava flow without being suffocated and fried.

  3. Ken Hanke

    The movie doesn’t deal in lava. This is more explosions, fire raining from the sky, and people stopping in the middle of it to fight each other.

  4. Ken Hanke

    Why do crap movies get more attention on here than good ones?

  5. Big Al

    “Why do crap movies get more attention on here than good ones?”

    Cuz it is easier to be snarky and cynical about bad films than about good ones.

    And Ashghanistan is overflowing with snark and cynicism. (I’ll even admit to having been infected to some degree).

  6. boatrocker

    10:36pm Feb 26, 2014.

    Welcome to pop culture Hanke.

    It works the same for everyone in the entertainment biz.

    “Why do crap (fill in the blank for the arts) get more attention than the good ones?”

  7. DrSerizawa

    Probably because it’s like a train wreck, you just gotta stare. Plus it isn’t controversial to note that a lot of money is spent to make a good movie. When millions and millions are spent making crap it gets attention.

  8. Ken Hanke

    I suspect it also has to do with the fact that people flock to the negative reviews, and the more comments that are made the more people will click on the link.

  9. Ken Hanke

    It works the same for everyone in the entertainment biz.

    We’re talking two different things, I think. I’m merely talking about why crap movies draw more attention in terms of views on here. (Of course, that changes, if you scroll down to the “still showing” titles for quality films that have been here a while.) It’s not like Pompeii is in the news generally (except as a flop) or that people are scrambling to see it.

  10. Big Al

    “..the more comments that are made the more people will click on the link.”

    That is definitely true for me. When I see 10+ comments on anything, I want to know what everyone is talking about. And then I add to the comment count, promoting more. Guilty!

  11. Ken Hanke

    Don’t apologize. I mean, here I am right after you adding to the mess. I would love to see this kind of action on Kill Your Darlings or Omar, though.

  12. Big Al

    “I would love to see this kind of action on Kill Your Darlings or Omar, though.”

    Jump to KYD’s review, I will be glad to oblige.

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