Ancient Rome and Greece are no strangers to the silver screen. “Troy,” “300,” “Spartacus” and “The Gladiator” are among the thousands of films that share the setting, each with their own unique way of manhandling the history and mythology of the age.
While there have been decent films made in Greek and Roman mythological settings (see above), most modern attempts are terrible CGI-laden monstrosities that question whether the filmmakers had any actual knowledge of history outside of an 8th grade social studies class.
“Pompeii,” directed by Paul W.S. Anderson (“Resident Evil: Retribution”), is yet another fine specimen in the realm of effects-heavy sewage that not only throws European history under the proverbial bus, but does so in conjunction with lackluster pacing, poor acting and a plot that fluctuates between mediocrity and stupidity from beginning to end.
The film’s plot revolves around Milo (Kit Harrington, TV’s “Game of Thrones”), a Celt whose tribe was wiped out by Roman troops led by Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland, TV’s “Touch”). A captive slave to the Romans, Milo is a formidable gladiator whose skills quickly spark the ire of his next opponent, Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, “Thor: The Dark World”), a fellow combatant whose successes in battle have left him one victory away from freedom according to Roman law. While on the road to Pompeii, Milo attracts the attention of Cassia (Emily Browning, “The Host”) when one of her horses is injured.
Upon reaching Pompeii, Cassia meets with her parents Severus (Jared Harris, “Lincoln”) and Aurelia (Carrie-Anne Moss, “Unity”,) who are hoping to convince Senator Corvus and the newly-minted Emperor Titus to invest in the further development of the city of Pompeii. As sparks fly between Milo and Cassia and dark business terms are discussed by Corvus and Severus, the volcanic Mt. Vesuvius slowly begins to destabilize in the background.
Much of the film consists of little more than clichéd plot devices and opportunities for Harrington to walk around shirtless. The movie’s lack of historical accuracy goes well beyond the level of acceptable suspension of disbelief and into the realm of incoherent lunacy. This, combined with the film’s already color-by-numbers plot, hilariously over-serious tone and stupidly expensive special effects, make for a migraine-inducing experience.
The cast provides terrible performances all-around, with Harrington, Browning, and Harris delivering their already-overblown lines in a transcendentally-hammy fashion. Even the presence of Moss and Sutherland (two actors who have the benefit of possessing quality acting skills) disappoints: Moss underwhelms with a stilted and paper-thin performance as Aurelia, and although Sutherland demonstrates his skill at playing villains as Corvus, the mustache-twirling nature of his character clashes with the intended tone of the film.
“Pompeii’s” lack of quality is consistent with the average Paul W.S. Anderson film, as it’s a disappointing trainwreck that is miraculously more disastrous than the actual disaster it portrays.