BY CHRISTOPHER HASKELL
MAY 17, 2014
Mount Vesuvius is the star of “Pompeii” and it never lets you forget it. Always looming in the background, the history of the volcano is quite exceptional, and allows us to recognize that it is a ticking time bomb in the film, ready to take out the entire city of Pompeii when it finally erupts and encasing the inhabitants of the city as stone-like fixtures for the rest of time. Taking a fictional approach to the tale in “Pompeii,” the volcano’s co-stars include Kit Harrington (“Game Of Thrones”) playing a gladiator opposite Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (“Lost”) and Emily Browning (“Sucker Punch”) Cassia, a princess looking to avoid marrying the sleazy politician Corvus, played by Kiefer Sutherland (“24”). Jared Harris (“Mad Men”, “Sherlock Holmes: Game Of Shadows”) and Carrie-Anne Moss (“The Matrix”) play her parents. As the drama unfolds in the arena and the eventual love triangle, the volcano overshadows any progressions to the story that takes place, with the lore of Pompeii being that no one made it out alive. Of course, the film could take creative license and for that reveal, I will leave you to see the film.
As with most gladiator films, our leading roles seek freedom and eventually ban together in an attempt to capture that freedom. When the bomb that is Mount Vesuvius finally goes off, this period piece becomes a disaster film as the entire city looks to find refuge from the ash and magma. Pompeii is one of the most unforgettable events in human history and one that I find most endearing. There is something intimate and awe-inspiring about being able to see these solidified corpses in the same positions that they were in when they died, statues of an era long past. That being said, I held the idea of “Pompeii” in already high regard that even the missteps transpired by the film landed somewhat effectively for me. On top of that notion, I also find Emily Browning to be an immense talent on screen, delivering unique performances no matter the role. And with this film offering very little star power, she is allowed to make it her own.
Never coming off like one of the director’s previous films, “Pompeii” is a huge step away from Paul W.S. Anderson’s normal fare in the “Resident Evil” franchise. The visual effects are expertly handled, allowing for this otherwise mediocre film to rise above and become something special, especially in a theater setting with impressive sound systems and the grandeur needed to pull off the overbearing volcano. This can likely be attributed to the growing visual effects nature of Anderson’s previous work. As far as disaster films go, “Pompeii” is set apart not only by being a period piece gladiator film but also by containing that volcanic destruction that is not often seen in films, save for “Dante’s Peak” and “Volcano.” As cheesy as it could be, the film pulls off the serious nature that it strives for and, again, most of that lands on the young and nubile cast. Not in line to win any awards and not quite reaching the potential that it has on paper, “Pompeii” is still a great way to bring this wonder of an event to the big screen, with an embellished love story to give the film some weight. The biggest opportunity missed by the film-makers was not including the pop song “Pompeii” by Bastille in the end credits.
February 21, 2014
Paul W. S. Anderson
Janet Scott Batchler
Michael Robert Johnson
(for intense battle sequences, disaster-related action and brief sexual content)
Paul W. S. Anderson