(2014) (Kit Harrington, Emily Browning) (PG-13)
- QUICK TAKE:
- Action/Drama: A slave turned gladiator must contend with the arrival of a Roman Senator who killed his family years ago and now is after a wealthy merchant's young adult daughter, all as Mt. Vesuvius prepares to erupt.
- Seventeen years after seeing his parents and neighbors slaughtered by Roman Senator Corvus (KIEFER SUTHERLAND) and his men, Milo (KIT HARINGTON) is now grown-up and enslaved as a gladiator in 79 AD. He's so proficient at fighting that he impresses the leader of a far-off Roman colony and is transferred to Pompeii as a possible challenger to the current slave gladiator champion, Atticus (ADEWALE AKINNOUYE-AGBAJE).
En route, he manages to impress Cassia (EMILY BROWNING), the daughter of wealthy and influential merchant Lucretius (JARED HARRIS) and his wife, Aurelia (CARRIE-ANNE MOSS). Cassia is somewhat enamored with Milo, something not lost on her lady in waiting, Ariadne (JESSICA LUCAS).
Yet, someone else has his sights set on Cassia and that would be none other than Senator Corvus who's arrived in the city amidst Lucretius' ambitious rebuilding efforts. He's interested in financing some of that, but only if Cassia is thrown into the deal, something that doesn't sit well with Lucretius as well as Milo.
But the slave-gladiator must contend with being thrown into the arena with other combatants, including Atticus who's just one victory away from obtaining his freedom. As all of that plays out, the nearby volcano of Vesuvius begins to rumble back to life, thus setting into motion a series of events that no one in Pompeii could have predicted.
- OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
- Considering that they're what's shaped a great deal of Earth (both in terms of destruction as well as growth in the form of new islands, such as those of Hawaii), it's slightly surprising volcanoes haven't been featured more often in movies. Of course, from a geological perspective, it's sort of difficult to make a compelling movie, but throw in some humans in harm's way and the seeds could obviously be planted for a disaster movie.
We occasionally do get them, including two ("Dante's Peak" and the imaginatively titled "Volcano") in 1997, but more often than not such lava spewing monstrosities are just supporting characters as occurred in "2012." What's most surprising, however, is that arguably the world's most famous volcano -- at least in terms of what it did to a neighboring city -- hasn't been featured prominently in a movie before. That volcano would be Mt. Vesuvius, and that unfortunate city would be none other than Pompeii, Italy. Both now get their limelight in the disaster flick "Pompeii."
Back in 79 A.D., the fairly hedonistic city (based on recovered artwork of the time) apparently received the wrath of whatever Roman god was offended by their actions as the volcano erupted and buried the city under meters of ash and pumice (following a superheated wave of incineration that killed around 20,000 people). Forgotten for centuries and then discovered in 1599 and then again in the mid 1700s, the disaster is best known for turning Pompeii into something of a time capsule of that era and tragic day, including what were turned into molds of victims in the exact positions in which they perished.
It's a fascinating and haunting place, sort of akin to visiting the remains of the HMS Titanic two miles down in the North Atlantic. And like the movie based on that more recent disaster, this film has the somewhat glaring issue that we know how things turn out. Yes, just like the unsinkable ocean liner sank, the volcano blows its top and the people next door have a really bad day.
Granted, James Cameron managed to turn the events of April 15, 1912 into an Oscar winning, money generating phenomenon that sailed high on the cinematic seas of late 1997 well into 1998. And that was thanks to characters we cared about, terrific action sequences and our morbid curiosity about what it must have been like on that fateful journey.
Here, director Paul W. S. Anderson ("Event Horizon," "Resident Evil" and two of its sequels), who works from a script by Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler and Michael Robert Johnson, obviously is hoping that such true-life disaster lightning (so to speak) strikes twice. Alas, and despite borrowing some of the story and character structure from Cameron's flick, it's highly unlikely the awards and box office dollars will come raining down on the film in anything similar to the molten rocks that pummeled their titular city.
Rather than a privileged girl who's engaged to a slimy rich guy but falls for a fellow of a much lower social status than her, we have a privileged young woman (Emily Browning) who ends up squarely in the sights of a slimy Roman senator (Kiefer Sutherland). He wants to force her hand in marriage as a bartering tool with her father (Jared Harris) to help rebuild Pompeii, but she finds herself attracted to a slave turned gladiator (Kit Harrington).
He apparently graduated from the school of Brad Pitt as Achilles in terms of being proficient in the arena despite his slight build (at least in comparison to the rest of the hulking behemoths, including the one played by Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje), while his story pretty much follows the usual "I don't want to be a gladiator but I'm good at it" outline. Oh, and he or someone else in his family is also a director ancestor to the character played by Robert Redford in "The Horse Whisperer."
Unfortunately for him and most everyone involved, that latter talent doesn't work with volcanoes. Thus, we end up with star-crossed lovers who must deal with a jealous villain, all while metaphorical and literal disaster looms in the wings. Had I cared even a bit about these characters, I might have worried about what was to come. And had Anderson managed to infuse the flick with tremendous action, peril and suspense, I might have been spellbound by the events. Sadly, none of that is present and thus I patiently awaited the money shot (or multiple shots in this case) of Vesuvius doing her (or his) thing.
There are plenty of special effects, most decently done, but spectacle can only carry a movie so far. At least the maestro of disaster flicks of old, Irwin Allen, knew to make these sorts of films tongue firmly planted in cheek, sometimes even with liberal doses of camp. Here, it's played straight and thus the story not only plays out in an inevitable fashion, but also one of boredom. Had the various characters not had a bad run-in with the volcano, the various clichés certainly would have ultimately done them in. "Pompeii" rates as a 4 out of 10.
Reviewed February 6, 2014 / Posted February 21, 2014
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