You know how this one ends. Pompeii was an ancient Roman city near what is now Naples. It, and a neighboring city, Herculaneum, and many villas in the surrounding countryside were destroyed and buried under 13 to 20 feet of ash and lava during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD. At the time of its destruction, Pompeii had a population of 20,000 with a complex water system, an amphitheater, and a huge port. There were several eye witness accounts of the destruction from those a distance away who managed to survive. The citizens were used to minor earthquakes, and knew they came from Vesuvius.
In terms of the event itself, there were small fissures along the mountain, and rumbles through the area and in the afternoon of the first day, Mount Vesuvius violently exploded, blanketing the area with ash. During the night and early the next day lava began flowing very quickly and very fast. It incinerated everything in its path. The quaking also caused a tsunami in the bay. By the evening of the second day, the eruption was over. The city was preserved for centuries under hardened volcanic pumice, which preserved everything and allowed the site to become an incredible architectural find. The forms of humans that were left are the result of filling plaster into the holes in the pumice that were once human remains. This allows for the very eerie ability to see the exact position the person was in when he or she died.
This movie tells the tale of a few people in those last few days of the city. The story is centered about Milo, who was captured as a boy in Britannia where he and his family where members of the ancient Celtic horse tribes after watching Romans slaughter his family. He was sold into slavery, and taken to the Roman city that would become London. There he becomes a very successful gladiator known only as ‘The Celt’, because the super-civilized Romans viewed the northerners as barbaric and wild, and why bother learning their real names? The gladiator pimp (I’m sure there’s a better name for it than that, but it’s accurate) takes some of his stock down closer to Rome to make more money.
Milo ends up arriving in Pompeii at exactly the same time young Cassia has arrived. She’s the daughter of the richest man in Pompeii; he’s sort of the mayor. She’s returning from a year or so in Rome, where she has grown tired of the new emperor’s extravagance, and lack of focus on his people. She encounters Milo on the street, where he’s being dragged along with a bunch of other slaves. They have a meet-cute over a dead horse (seriously - yikes). He goes on to the gladiator holding pits, where he promptly gets in a fight and meets Atticus, who will be his only friend; she goes on to go back to her parent’s house to unpack and gossip with her handmaiden about how handsome that slave was. Her father, Severus, is expecting company from Rome, and is hoping to get investments in some building ideas for Pompeii – a new aqueduct and such. Conveniently, a big time festival is coming up, which will have some big time gladiator matches. The rep from Rome is Corvus; who has basically come to Pompeii chasing Cassia. It’s implied that he sexually harassed Cassia so much she fled Rome, and conveniently he’s also the one who was posted in Brittania and was responsible for the elimination of Milo’s tribe. Meanwhile, the volcano begins to rumble. It starts to go crazy, and takes out Cassia’s groom, sending her horse back home alone. Milo and Atticus team up to win in the arena, much to the chagrin of Corvus, who then shows his true colors by turning on Severus and demanding his daughter in marriage, or else! The volcano explodes, Milo has to rescue Cassia from Corvus, while ensuring that he and Atticus can get their freedom. Everyone tries to escape, but listen – you know how it ends.
This movie is directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who I love – from Mortal Kombat to Resident Evil and he does silly action movies better than most, but this one does struggle. It’s not his fault, the movie looks good and moves well, but there’s just no interest in any of the characters, and Kiefer, while still awesome, is more pompous and bored than threatening. The volcano explosion looked impressive, and seems to follow the documented actual progression of the real explosion. There are a couple of good gladiator fights, an entertaining chariot race, and Atticus running exposition while the gladiators pose on pedestals. Thank goodness that watching the TV show Spartacus prepared me for that. Of course, this movie is rated PG13, so it’s much more tame than that show was. You know, rent that – and the TV show Rome – they are both better than this movie – but there’s no volcano explosions in them.
- Kit Harington tries to prove that he does know something beyond Jon Snow from Game of Thrones. He may have a future in action movies, but he is physically a little small to be a world-famous gladiator. He counters that by being fast. He has really sad eyes, which have always worked for him on GOT, and in this movie, work well again since he had lost his family. The character is virtually the same as Jon Snow – so who knows yet if he’s more talented, but I’m sure we will see.
- Emily Browning plays Cassia – and she plays a damsel in distress pretty well – which we previously had to deal with in the absolutely horrifically terrible SuckerPunch. What I did enjoy was her absolute contempt of Kiefer’s character. She never tries to hide it, which is pretty fun. Of course, he never lets that bother him. She also manages to balance her character’s richness and sense of entitlement with a genuine desire to help those around her and her family – which is interesting. She could have come off as a spoiled brat – and she works it just well enough to make it more powerful young woman.
- Carrie-Anne Moss and Jared Harris play Cassia’s parents. Harris played the creepy scientist in the second Resident Evil, and though he’s mostly a good character in this – he’s still creepy. They both do a wonderful job of trying to do the best for their city, and finally realizing they’ve signed a deal with the devil, then dying romantically together after being crushed by a collapsing stadium. Spoiler alert – they get collapsed in the stadium during an earthquake.
- The gorgeous Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays the mighty Atticus. He seems to be one of the only actors having a good time in this. He’s playing the same noble gladiator character you’ve seen over and over again. He’s of the opinion that the Romans will stand by their word to free him after he’s won his required number of fights in the arena, so you can imagine his shock when they don’t. You know you can’t trust Romans. He and Milo try to help each other out of the mess – but again, you know how this ends. At least he gets a noble end. By the way – see Thor 2 if you haven’t. He’s awesome in that too.
- Kiefer Sutherland does his best to be the very annoying baddie in this. Corvus is a pompous dick who is used to getting his own way. He’s fine, he’s not nearly as good as he was as the villain in the Lost Boys. I wish he would have chewed the scenery a little bit more.
- Sasha Roiz, who pops up on Grimm, plays Bellator, who essentially is Corvus’s henchman. He doesn’t have a ton to do, but look really intimidating in his armor and carry out Corvus’s orders.
All in all, the movie is not terrible; it’s just not very good. The volcano explosion is very impressive, and the effects are certainly entertaining. The human performances are way more stiff (it’s tough to be stiffer than a CGI volcano). In a movie like this, it would be way more fun if everyone in the movie embraced how cheesy it was and had a little bit more fun, and let go a little bit more. Everyone is taking it just a little too seriously.
6 out of 10 – Gained points for the CGI Mount Vesuvius – really the best character in the movie. Lost points for Milo killing that horse – yes, he’s putting it out of its misery, but geez. Gained points for Adewale trying to have fun, lost points for no one else having any fun.
Bonus Video 1: Even though I loved Mortal Kombat – Paul W.S. Anderson's first movie, it's not perfect.
Bonus Video 2: Lost Boys – Kiefer as a better bad guy.
Bonus Video 3: Cast Interviews…