"Pompeii" is easily the stupidest movie of 2014 so far. Frankly, the movie is an embarrassment. The actors seem embarrassed to be apart of it, I'm embarrassed to have seen it. Luckily "Pompeii" was directed by perhaps the only man on the planet incapable of feeling shame, Paul W. S. Anderson, director of such meaningless things as "Alien vs. Predator" and the Resident Evil series. The movie could not be more shameless and ignoble if it were a porn. If it were a porn, it probably would have had a more sophisticated and interesting plot. Essentially what you are looking at is the basest and most manufactured movie, possibly ever. The only competition is "Battleship". There is not a trace of creativity anywhere. Wit, human drama, historical authenticity, even just a sense of fun, none of it can be found here in "Pompeii". Keep moving folks, this movie is deader than the city it's named for.
I wish I could describe the storyline of "Pompeii" as anything more than "'Gladiator' meets 'Titantic'", but I get the terrifying suspicion that this marketing combination is exactly the reason this movie was made. I can see a group of soulless husks in a meeting room, all in finely tailored suits, throwing around movie ideas. "Eh... 'Titanic' was successful like fifteen years ago, we should probably rip that off now, what was another movie made around the same time? 'Gladiator'? Hmm... 'Gladiator'... 'Titanic'... how do they meet? Roman disasters... Roman disasters... Oh! Pompeii! Get that Paul Anderson guy on it. No, not the good one, he has too much self-respect for this. The guy who farted out 'The Three Musketeers'." So what you have is a star-crossed love story between a gladiator fighting for his life and an upper class girl about to be married off to a dickish rich man, which is all settled explosively when the City of Pompeii gets hit by an iceberg.
The problem is that "Gladiator" was a brilliant movie, and "Titanic", as cheesy as it was, is still extremely well-made and competent. "Pompeii" is a movie without any intelligence or particular quality of any kind, so it can merely copycat those much older movies, while giving no impression it understood on any level what made those movies popular. Do you want an enthralling and dramatic story of a gladiator facing off against an empire? How about a inspiring romance in a doomed historical disaster? You will be disappointed from either perspective. Hell, maybe you're simply a big fan of the Tommy Lee Jones "Volcano" movie from 1997* - then you'll be horrified to learn the volcano business lasts about a half hour and considering the mediocre screenplay, you'll probably be rooting for Mt. Vesuvius. The bad romance movie gets in the way of the action movie and together they get in the way of the disaster movie. A great movie can combine genres into something cohesive. A bad movie, like "Pompeii" just muddles itself into absolute stupidity.
Okay, so here's the only reason anybody is considering going to see "Pompeii" in the first place: Kit Harrington. For "Game of Thrones" fans, he's Jon Snow, bastard sire of House Stark, fighting along the Wall to protect the Seven Kingdoms from ice zombies. However, do not let your devotion to George R. R. Martin's fantasy universe lead you into the fires of "Pompeii". Harrington might be good on the show, he is not good in this. "Pompeii" is the kind of movie so badly-made that an actor simply cannot do his job well, no matter how talented they are. In this movie, Harrington plays Milo, the last surviving member of a Celtic tribe who apparently have the power to talk to horses. He's also a gladiator and in love with a Pompeii Princess. That's it for his character: he's mad at Romans, and loves a girl he met a day ago. There is nothing to work with - Jon Snow here simply throws around his lone mopey expression and generally underwhelms for all to see.
You know nothing, Jon Snow.
Even more veteran actors disappoint, do not blame Kit Harrington for failing to hold up a woeful romance plotline. Keifer Sutherland, probably in a sage move for his career, hid his presence entirely in the trailers, and he is awful in this. He plays a Roman Senator who murdered Milo's people and in a fantastic coincidence has to play the Billy Zane role in "Titanic" by lusting after the same girl Milo loves. Carrie-Anne Moss is terrible in this movie too as the Mom. Nothing more to say about her, she's The Mom. Emily Browning as Cassia, the female McGuffin, is terrible. The only actor who shines in any form is Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, basically playing Dijmon Hounsou's role from "Gladiator", as the African best friend, named 'Atticus' for some reason. There is at least somebody pulling together some gravitas and fun into this movie. Why isn't Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje the lead actor? Because he's big and Black and his name is hard to pronounce, that's why. And if we had an interesting lead, "Pompeii" would not be the most formulaic movie ever made, and that would definitely not fit Paul W. S. Anderson's artistic vision**.
Two lovers embrace and kiss before the destruction of their city. They've fought against everything, villainous Senators, the anger of the God Vulcanus, and now finally they get to kiss. Why was this romance worth so much? That both of their respective disposable Black friends died horribly in the fires, that so many died, why is this the one story worth telling of the 79 A.D. Vesuvius Eruption? Kit Harrington's Milo and Emily Browning's Cassia have only known each other for a single day, they've had only one interaction that truly counts as a conversation, and yet they are madly in love, despite everything in the world. Why do they love each other? Because Milo euthanized a horse for Cassia? Because Cassia also inexplicably hates the Romans***? Yet the plot is built all around these two coming together, even the lava is just an inconvenience for the love story.
You know, somewhere nearby the ancient naturalist Pliny the Elder is dying attempting to save refugees from the burning city. Does anybody else think that a movie about one of the great minds of antiquity leading the Roman fleet to relieve Pompeii while his teenaged nephew, future Christian-hunting lawyer and author, Pliny the Younger watched, would have made for a more interesting movie? I guess not, I am a mere history nerd who knows nothing of movies. The people who know what they are doing instead decided that Mopey and Duck-face racing against a pyroclastic flow was the story that simply had to be told.
Volcano, schmalcano! Emily Browning's non-Euclidean
facial geometry is the most unsettling part of this movie.
facial geometry is the most unsettling part of this movie.
By the way, Emily Browning, please stop listening to your agent, your 8-ball, or whatever is it that tells you which jobs to take. "Pompeii" makes strike number three for your career, after "Sucker Punch" and "The Host". You're out, babe.
Probably the only joy of "Pompeii" comes from ironic glee watching Kit Harrington and Keifer Sutherland fight like dogs in heat for Cassia, even while the entire city is blasted apart by meteor strikes. Can't these three settle this crap a few miles down the road out of the path of the most infamous volcano eruption in history? It gets funnier when you realize that further back, Milo left Atticus to fight Sutherland's main lieutenant, both of whom seemed perfectly willing to die fighting in the shadow of Hell itself, even though personally neither have any quarrel, and are only fighting because their respective friends have a love triangle going on. "Your friend hates my friend, let us fight to the death in the most horrific environment imaginable." How about some of you characters show some fucking survival instinct??
It only gets funnier when you consider the ending. SPOILERS: They all die. Thankfully for us modern viewers, Darwinism cut these idiotic people out from our gene pool thousands of years ago. Our ancestors are the cowards who dropped their respective silly love-triangles in order to live and breed another day. Let that be a lesson to you.
Maybe this is the Gods' wrath for bad writing.
Between "Pompeii" and last month's "The Legend of Hercules", I think I have to choose "The Legend of Hercules" in the battle of stupid movies with gladiators. Clearly "Pompeii" has far more money on display, and they both commit the same mistake of basing everything in their plots on mediocre romances involving bland people. They both, at least, have decent gladiator combat. If all you want is a spectacle of a city being melted away by lava, then sneak into "Pompeii" for the last half hour. But this is the worse movie. At least "The Legend of Hercules" was bare-faced and open with its general incompetence and so it became fun. "Pompeii" is not fun. Merely trying to be a movie is pretentious and pathetic for this production. It is a movie so generic it might as well be a satire of generic Hollywood romances.
Maybe some day the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. will make for a great movie. That day is certainly not today.
* "Volcano" is one of the most overlooked movies of the Nineties, its actually amazing and a lot of a fun. Tommy Lee Jones fights a volcano, and wins. How do you beat a volcano? Just watch the movie. Its great.
** Not that anybody should ever use the word "artistic" in the same sentence as "Paul W. S. Anderson".
*** There is a lot of anti-Roman propaganda in this movie, and the Empire which is the basis for nearly our entire civilization is treated as purely corrupt and vile. Anybody who is a Good dislikes the Romans, anybody who is a Bad is a loyal soldier to the Emperor. The movie even has to invent crimes, such as Atticus being scammed out of winning his freedom from a lifetime of gladiatorial combat, when actual gladiators bought their freedom often and became beloved sports celebrities. Why would Pompeii, a city that had been held by the Romans for centuries at this point, is purely Romanized in its culture, and depends upon Roman tourism for it's economy (it was, to put it broadly, the first century's version of Las Vegas), be a hotbed of anti-Roman sentiment? Because nobody cared.