Pompeii (3D)
Columbia/Tri-Star // PG-13 // February 21, 2014
Review by Jeff Nelson | posted February 21, 2014
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Those who have heard the story about Pompeii know that it's actually quite intriguing to learn about. However, I'm having difficulty finding the reasoning behind making this into a full-length motion picture. There's absolutely no explanation other than to have an excuse to catch the attention of the masses with a huge amount of CG work during the eruption sequence. I'm pretty sure that's the exact point that got this green lit. If that wasn't bad enough, why not add a filmmaker who is known for putting motion pictures on the big screen that have viewers "face-palming" around the world? That man is Paul W.S. Anderson, and he's the individual responsible for bringing us flicks such as AVP: Alien vs. Predator, Resident Evil, and The Three Musketeers. If you've seen any of these movies, then you know exactly what you're in for, because the approach is no different. However, I expected it to be much more violent than it turned out to be. In fact, this is watered-down to the point of no return.

Set in Pompeii in the year 79 A.D., we follow the story of Milo (Kit Harington), who has been a slave for most of his life. His family and everybody he knew as a child were slaughtered, leaving him under scrutiny and abuse. After a horse is badly wounded, Milo is faced with removing the horse's pain by death. In this moment, he meets the beautiful Cassia (Emily Browning), who is the beautiful daughter of a wealthy merchant. She is dealing with issues of her own, as she's forced to continue encountering a powerful, yet inhumane Roman named Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland). As Mount Vesuvius erupts, Milo must fight to save his beloved as the once magnificent Pompeii crumbles around him.

The screenwriters on board are clearly trying to take a disastrous event and shrink it down to the scale of only a few characters. Even though we all know how this film is going to end, it tries to focus primarily on the journey and the lives that were lost in the eruption. This is far from the first time that we've followed a story similar to this one. From the very moment that we're introduced to the protagonist, we already know every element that will be shown of this character. He has a typical backstory and there isn't very much to like about him. There isn't a single witty or charming thing about the role, making it very difficult to ever have the desire to root for him. Cassia is even more one-dimensional than the lead is, which I didn't think could be possible. The filmmakers didn't stop there, as every single supporting role feels as if they are filler. Not a single character feels like a real person, and we're never given a real reason to care about their goals or achievements. This is a huge issue, since the majority of the film tries to play off of a romance.

When the filmmakers aren't trying to hit on the romantic notes, audiences are bounced between the gladiator arena and the wealthy villa of Cassia's family. There are a lot of pointless fighting sequences and poorly executed political discussions. Even from watching the trailer, the action sequences come across as being entirely unnecessary. It has absolutely nothing to do with any of the true problems that our characters face. Whether he's engaging in brawls underground or in the arena, expect to be constantly made aware that you're watching a PG-13 rated action flick. Even when people are stabbed and slashed, there isn't really much blood. These times were brutal and dark, so why does everything feel so safe and watered-down? The screenplay simply isn't smart enough to take on political subject matter. Fortunately, it doesn't spend a lot of time on this, but it's a shame that it couldn't do this segment of the film any good. Pompeii has some various plot twists, all of which you'll see coming from a mile away. There aren't any surprises to be found here, and it even manages to fail at achieving the ordinary feat of keeping its audiences engaged.

You know the so-called "love" that our lead shares with Cassia? Well, it takes over the final act, as he tries to save her from the eruption. The passion between these two characters never felt real, and it only comes across as being that much more ridiculous towards the climax of the motion picture. I'm betting that the filmmakers imagined that this would lead to an epic conclusion that would leave audiences on the edge of their seats as Pompeii begins to crumble and our hero fights for the woman that he "loves." It's actually quite the opposite. There isn't a single ounce of tension to speak of at any moment during the running time. We know what's going to happen next and everything feels as if it was tacked on at the last moment. Nothing feels crafted or genuine, yet it tries so incredibly hard to be a crowd pleaser, but it fails each and every time it makes an attempt.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson's Pompeii might also get a little bit of extra attention due to a couple of the casting decisions. With Game of Thrones being such a huge hit on television lately, it only makes sense to cast Kit Harington in the lead role, I suppose. He seems to physically fit the character, but I had a great deal of difficulty connecting to the role. Even though he's working with some rough material, he should still be able to manage to breathe a little bit of life into the lead. Emily Browning is a beautiful young actress who fits into the world of the story, but doesn't make it any easier to connect with the character. There should have been an extreme amount of chemistry between our two main characters, yet their connection isn't even slightly convincing. This love story couldn't have possibly felt more forced than already does. Kiefer Sutherland is the most laughable casting choice that I have seen in quite some time in the role of Corvus. He constantly breaks out of character and leaves audiences in the state of an eternal eye roll.

One compliment that I can give Pompeii is that it looks pretty good. Whether Milo is fighting in the arena or he's running away from the famous eruption, this film certainly looks extremely polished. When Mount Vesuvius finally erupts, it looks fantastic. The closest you'll get to any excitement here is when Pompeii begins to crumble and burn to the ground. However, I could have done without the quick-cut editing through all of the arena sequences. The absence of the bloodshed is more than a bit noticeable, but at least the sound effects are pretty decent. You hear a lot more carnage than you actually see. It ultimately isn't as effective, but it's better than nothing. If you're expecting some cool fight scene choreography, then get ready to be disappointed. Every fight sequence looks like every other action flick that you've ever seen. However, what would an action film be without being presented in the 3D format? Well, it's pretty much useless in this title. While there's a decent amount of depth during the eruption itself as ashes and clouds of dust fly in front of our characters, this doesn't make it worth spending any extra money.

Needless to say, Pompeii is an absolute disaster. The screenplay is extremely problematic, as it rushes nearly every plot progression and causes almost every aspect of the film to feel incredibly forced. Nothing feels natural and none of the story transitions are smooth. The romance centered in the middle of everything is tacky and inauthentic. The only reason the screenwriters put Milo in the gladiator arena was to get more action out of this flick, but all of it is the generic PG-13 violence that we've come to loathe. This is made only worse by seeing Kiefer Sutherland in the role of Corvus, who will clearly be inspiring unintentional laughs from viewers around the world. Pompeii might have explosions and sword fights, but it's ultimately an incredibly dull experience. Skip it.

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