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Movie Review: 'Pompeii'


Starring: Kip Harrington, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson
Rated PG-13


Dear Movie 43 and The Host,

You may no longer be the worst movies I have ever seen.  There is a new sheriff in town.

That right there could be my entire review.  And believe me, it hard for me to not just leave it like that.  But I’m an adult, damn it and I have a lot to say about Pompeii. First though, I would like to say this is the second movie I have seen by Paul W.S. Anderson (the first being the equally awful Event Horizon).  Since then, the only time I’ve mention the lesser Anderson’s name is to either make a joke, or correct someone when they think he directed Boogie Nights.  Anderson’s movies, despite being the fodder for people who liken him to Uwe Boll (and they aren’t far off), continues to keep a presence in the film world.  Why?  His movies make money, more specifically; they make international money…lots of it.   And now W.S. Anderson gives us his biggest movie yet (in terms of budget) and makes an entire audience walk out of the theater, Charlie Brown style, ashamed they just paid money to see it. 

Walking into Pompeii, I knew what I was getting into; I just didn’t realize how bad the situation was.  The movie is equal parts Roland Emmerich disaster porn and bad soap opera storylines.  And for a film that cost $100 million dollars, looks like a cheap video game.   I might have been more forgiven had Anderson gone the way of Emmerich and skirted storylines for just lots of action and explosions.   But he clearly had bigger aspirations for a Titanic type grandiose story and there is a part of me that wants to give Anderson a little credit for attempting such a feat.   But that credit gets buried under the ashes of every bad move this movie makes.  It makes so many mistakes….so many.

Pompeii, for those who don’t know, was an ancient Italian city that in 79 A.D, was wiped out by a massive volcano, courtesy of Mount Vesuvius.  Pompeii, the movie, shows the city in its final moments.  Well, it tells the story of Milo (Kip Harrington), who is shown as a young child in the beginning of the movie, as he watches his family being murdered by Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) and his army.  Cut to 17 years later and Milo is a slave forced into gladiator fights.  Milo is transported to Pompeii where he catches the eye of Cassia (Emily Browning), daughter of royalty in Pompeii.  But Cassia is sort of promised to Corvus, now a Roman senator by her parents (Jared Harris and Carrie-Ann Moss).  But you can’t stop destiny or young love as Cassia and Milo will do anything to be together.   Oh, then Mount Vesuvius erupts and shit gets real and the movie moves into disaster porn territory, where it feels the most comfortable.

First and foremost, the story that Anderson has crafted is a joke.  Take every clichéd moment from movies similar in nature (or just any bad romantic drama involving the affluent white girl and the gritty street boy), this movie doesn’t stray from that formula…not even an inch.   But Anderson ultimately seems way more concerned to get into destruction mode and rushes through his love story.  And what he has on screen is downright embarrassing.  From the zero chemistry or connection between Milo and Cassia to never developing Milo’s story as he is transported to Rome, is scheduled to fight Atticus (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje) a gladiator who with one more win gets his freedom, and then seemingly out of nowhere becomes best friends with the guy.  The dialog seems way too modern, but again, Anderson obviously doesn’t care about things like that.  And the one person with the most talent, Sutherland, seems to have traded in integrity for a paycheck…and it painfully shows as he overacts without any of the fun that can come with an actor playing that card.

Anderson also peppers the movie with weird cuts to show Vesuvius getting ready to explode and oddly…or more appropriately, terribly timed slow-mo shots (he makes Michael Bay and John Woo seem like masters of the slow-mo shot).  So what about the payoff shots, that of Vesuvius exploding and destroying the city of Pompeii?  Well, Anderson can’t seem to build any sort of tension and since you could care less about any of the characters none of it pays off.  And what I said was true, the effects look pretty cheap, but it could’ve been worse, most of the cheapness is hidden by the darkness of the shots.  Then the movie ends and Anderson, apparently he was making a movie based around an event that really happened, doesn’t even end the movie with some facts about that fateful day for Pompeii.

It’s safe to say, this will be the last Paul W.S. Anderson movie that I will ever see.  It’s too bad this movie won’t be the final nail in his movie career coffin.  That day can’t come soon enough.

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