Directed by: Paul W.S. Anderson
Written by: Janet Scott Batchler & Lee Batchler and Michael Robert Johnson
Starring: Kit Harrignton, Emily Browning, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kiefer Sutherland
The Premise: Love knows no bounds when a slave and a citizen fall in love only to find their affair cut short by a natural disaster.
The man known as The Celt (Kit Harrington) witnessed his entire family murdered by The Romans when he was very young. He was able to escape by hiding under the dead bodies and grew up to become a champion slave gladiator. As he is taken from Londonium to Pompeii he helps with a lame horse belonging to a young noble woman, Cassia (Emily Browning). They both become smitten with each other, but he being a slave, there is nothing she can do about it.
On arrival in Pompeii we find that the man responsible for killing The Celt’s family is visiting Cassia’s father in hopes to invest in Pompeii. This Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) is also vying for the hand of Cassia, but she will have none of it. The story comes to a head when Covus finds out that Cassia has feelings for The Celt so he has him set to die in the arena only to be interrupted by the angry Mount Vesuvius.
The final shot of W.S. Anderson’s Pompeii tells you the kind of movie it wants to be: Two lovers embracing, lips touching in a kiss that will outlast time. Pompeii, the film: a love story. This movie is in fact not a love story but an action movie with a weak love story tucked in between its folds. A Harlequin romance story of unrequited love, two people from opposite sides of the tracks connecting with each other with a single look; Would-be “Romeo and Juliets” stealing glances across bloodied arenas with little more than a few sentences cementing the ache in their hearts.
How do you make a movie that is clearly about an extraordinary disaster? You find a story to tell in the mean time while you hint at the final act. This is why Pompeii is and will always be compared to Cameron’s Titanic. For better or worse, Cameron did it right. Difference is he gave us the scenes to fall in love with the Jack and Rose, and more importantly, he gave us moments where we witnessed the main characters fall in love with each other. So, as such, Pompeii is a failure, full with missed opportunities and underdeveloped characters.
The father of young star-crossed lover Cassia hopes to find funds from Rome to upgrade Pompeii to a larger, stronger city; the city he believes it truly is. Severus (Jared Harris) is a good man and wants only good for his city. This should have been the storyline to focus on not the The Celt and Cassia. Severus’ story about working to help his city grow, the love of his family; the inevitable betrayal by Corvus, and Severus’ drive to do right by his town only to have it completely removed from the earth is a stronger, and more heartfelt story to hold the hand of the viewer than one horse-back ride to the countryside. So many times, young screenwriters mistake a love story as the only way to have characters be relatable, and here we have proof.
The actors do work well with their roles, though. Allowing the scenes that are not action to be enjoyable. So many times in these types of films when you cut back to the “story” from a car chase one finds themselves waiting for the next thing to explode, but here it works… well… enough. Emily Browning is loveable and conveys the stirred emotions needed for a woman of nobility to fall for a man well below her station. Harrington, begins the film as the quiet mono-syllabic everyman and once he meets Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) he comes out of his shell and a fun duo emerges as they rib each other on who will kill who first. Kiefer Sutherland as the main antagonist, is also having fun with his portrayal as Corus, complete with his venomous catch-phrase, “Kill them. Kill them all.”
Of course, what all this love story and politics will be overshadowed by is the action. Anderson’s use of set pieces and space is wonderful. The chase scene through the city in the third act, the final Arena battle, and and then what everyone really will come to see: the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. All are expertly paced and well produced, and the action fan will come out feeling they got their monies worth. What this reviewer found enticing was how the fight scenes felt like their was weight in them. Sure there were some non-sensical stunt fights here that are more akin to modern dance than real fighting, but for the most part you believed the weapons had weight and the contact between blade and human seemed to have strength, not just in the victim but with the person wielding the weapon taking some of the brunt. Nice work.
I feel I need to mention the 3D. Pompeii was not post converted, which if you are going to see a 3D film, skipping post convert is a must. Real, dual-camera 3D photography is what gives us the beauty and layers that truly sell 3D. That being said, the 3D here seemed to be lacking. The majority of daylight scenes were exposition and one does not expect the 3D plane to be extreme yet the rest of the fight scenes and the volcano erupting all take place at night so the 3D felt muddied. A shame, really, since most audience members will be coming to witness the majesty of the destruction of Pompeii in “glorious” 3D, and may well be disappointed when it it just a blackness with a few red fireballs streaking the screen.
As a story Pompeii does not deliver. It tries desperately to give us a love story and fails at almost every turn. It’s the action where Pompeii shines. Fun, exciting, well directed fight scenes and wanton destruction abound. Doubtless this will be a film that a core set of audience members will watch again and again, showing off their out-dated 3D home theatre set-ups but they will find that much like that old VHS copy of Emmanuelle 2: The Joys of a Woman they had stashed under their beds they will have had memorized the timecode for the action scenes; fast forwarding to the reason they bought Pompeii. It is not Titanic. It is not 300. It is something in between. Not bad… just not that good.