Director: Paul W. S Anderson
Cast: Kit Harrington, Emily Browning, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Carrie Anne Moss, Sasha Roiz with Jared Harris and Kiefer Sutherland
Plot: While Mount Vesuvius rumbles in the background, a gladiator (Harrington) tries to survive the wraith of a Roman senator (Sutherland), who is envious of his dream girl’s (Browning) affections for him.
While being a true story of sorts, the basis of Paul W. S Anderson’s movie comes from a very good novel. Like the movie, it revolves around a gladiator who falls in love with a girl from a higher class and their romance is destroyed, as Pompeii crumbles around them. The book was written by Robert Graves, who loves his Roman history, making the novel a very accurate account of what happened with Mount Vesuvius. For example, the disaster was made worse due to a new aqueduct system installed by Jared Harris’s architect character. The difference between Graves and W.S Anderson is that here, the director, clearly just uses the story of Vesuvius, as an excuse to make a Gladiator meets Spartacus action flick.
Not that I expected much more from Paul W. S Anderson. His films have usually been the kind of action that asks you to leave your brain cells at home. The aqueduct thing is summed up in a single sentence that only made sense to me thanks to the book. Everyone else probably wondered what the hell was up with that random strand of exposition. In fact, it becomes pretty clear that W.S Anderson doesn’t have much time for exposition or story at all. I like my Roman movies, complete with political back-stabbing. Spartacus might have been remembered for the nudity and bloody battles, but the reason I stayed was for the scheming for power. While Kiefer Sutherland brings a little bit of back-stabbing and power-hunger to the movie (at one point, he almost channels Game of Throne’s Joffrey, when it comes to nastiness), there was very little of this side of the story. Anderson is clearly more interested in the gladiators, which sadly we have all seen before. It almost got frustrating watching the same clichéd relationship between the two heroes of the movie. One wants to get to know the other, while that person doesn’t want to grow fond of someone he is killing the next day. The same goes for Harrington’s love story with Emily Browning. We have seen all of this before, and W. S Anderson only ever ends up re-treading old ground with Pompeii.
Some powerhouse performances might have lifted standards, but no one really gets too much to flex their acting muscles. I guess if I had to compliment someone it would be Sutherland and Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who go for broke and give us the hammiest performance imaginable. Akinnuoye-Agbaje adds gravitas with his grumbling voice that bounces off the scenery, probably one of the things that triggered the volcano in the first place. Sutherland’s accent might be hilarious, but both he and the director are in on the joke, just giving us a villain that we can all get behind to hate. No one really drops the ball with the acting, except maybe Emily Browning, who never really grabs you as a love interest. Paul W. S Anderson was getting quite good at giving us good female heroes, like Alice from Resident Evil and Alexa Woods in Alien Vs Predator, but Browning’s simpering damsel in distress is a step back for the director. And I cannot review this film without talking about Jon Snow himself, the one and only Kit Harrington. He doesn’t really need to act, because the second he emerges into that gladiator ring with his glistening six-pack and smouldering stare, we already love the actor. While he hardly gets a chance to flex his acting muscles, his casual charm makes it easy to like the character, which helps as he doesn’t get much dialogue for the first half hour of the movie. I hope that, despite negative reviews from most critics, Harrington gets more lead roles in action movies, because he plays the part so well.
So in retrospect, the intelligence of the book is scrapped for action and no one gets a chance to act with some meaty political back-stabbing. Thus it falls to the action to save the movie. And thank god, because the action is actually really, really good. While I began to let my expectations dip, some of the fights here pulled me right back into the movie. The prolonged gladiator scene where Sutherland tries his hardest to stack the odds against both Harrington and Akinnuoye-Agbaje is fantastically choreographed and features the bloody fighting that most of us would have turned up for. The characters, both heroes and villains, are thrown through hell and somehow manage to cling to life, making for some great sleight of hands by W. S Anderson, when it comes to character deaths. Sure, when it is all said and done, Pompeii is fairly predictable (even the last few beats, which may have been added to surprise a few viewers), but when W. S Anderson wants to make a good fight scene, he bloody well goes and does it.
Final Verdict: It’s not the best movie out there, but I have a fondness for bastards, cripples and broken things.