Friday, May 2, 2014

You Gotta Lava It. Pompeii: A Review


POMPEII

Pompeii knows what it is: a somewhat cheesy second-level mix of Spartacus, Gladiator and Titanic, but unlike those last two films, the chances of it winning Best Picture are slim to none.   As such, and the fact that I did find it entertaining though flawed, I cannot find it in my heart to dislike it. 

And it does have at least one advantage: Pompeii is better than After Earth.  I don't know how After Earth came into the conversation, but I think it is because After Earth thought it was some kind of epic when it was a convoluted vanity project for Will Smith's progeny, while Pompeii was just a good time with a simple (or simplistic) story that didn't ask much from us.

The Roman army has devastated Britannia.  The Roman general Corvus (Keifer Sutherland) has slaughtered the Celts, but a child manages to survive.  He however, is swiftly taken captive and over time is brought up as a gladiator.  Still fighting in Londinium, the Celt is seen as worthy enough for Italian audiences.  He is therefore shipped off to Pompeii, where he meets Cassia (Emily Browning), a wealthy merchant's daughter.  Instant love follows.  The Celt (as he is generally known) wants nothing but to kill and avenge his family and people, and his newest rival, Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) wants to kill him, which will mean Atticus now will gain his freedom.

Cassia's parents, Severus (Jared Harris) and Aurelia (Carrie-Anne Moss) want to curry favor with the new Senator in order to bring business to Pompeii.  For better or worse, the new powerful Senator is...Corvus.  He isn't too impressed with this backwater of the Roman Empire, but he is highly impressed with Cassia.  The feelings are not mutual, especially since the forward-thinking Cassia rejected his advances during her 'Roman holiday'. 

Now, at a massive gladiatorial event, all the characters' conflicting agendas come into play.  The Celt, who has finally given us his name of Milo (Kit Harington) wants vengeance against Corvus, Cassia now just wants Milo (having reencountered him at a pre-gladiator feast), Corvus wants Cassia and the popularity of the Pompeii citizenry.  Just as everything is beginning, Mt. Vesuvius, which has been rumbling for a day or two, finally explodes.  With the city in chaos and so many of our characters either dead by the earthquake, the tsunami, or flat-out murdered, the conflict between Milo and Cervus for Cassia and vengeance is as explosive as the fire and brimstone raining down around them.

Admiring the view...

Pompeii scores no points in the 'intelligence' department.  It is simply too reminiscent of better films (and Titanic too) to be considered original or clever.  However, I think part of the success of Pompeii (for me at least) is that at least it knows it isn't breaking new ground or doing anything other than throwing us some mild, harmless entertainment.  In fact, it could be a game unto itself: seeing how many films Pompeii manages to rip off. 

Speaking of 'ripped', not having seen Game of Thrones (or really having any interest in doing so), I can't comment on how good Harington is as an actor.  I'm going to say that with Pompeii, he knew it was really not worth the time to invest anything other than glowering throughout the film.  Even when the amazingly-rushed romance between Milo (a remarkably non-threatening name) and Cassia takes center stage, Harington doesn't bother to push any sense of romance.  We don't even get a good love scene, just a lot of furtive glances and kisses. 

Almost everyone else was if not chewing the scenery at least playing the script by Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler, and Michael Robert Johnson with a certain wry humor or attempting to make it as serious as their talent and common sense would let them.


The one major exception was Sutherland.  He decided to play Corvus as Snidely Whiplash in a toga, complete with peculiar fey voice that either showed Sutherland's contempt for the film or his total desire to have fun with it all.  The term 'camp' is the best one to describe Sutherland, and I think he knew it.  That could be another fun game: trying to figure out exactly where he is from based on his voice.

Pompeii is only worth watching for the final destruction of the city, which is big, loud, bombastic and pretty fun.  It looks like Paul W.S. Anderson spent the time and money in giving us a spectacle if ever there was one.  Taking up about the last third of the film, the eruption and devastation of the city is worth the cost of admission, though not much else is.

Let's not pretend that Pompeii is anything other than silly fun.  The story is clichéd, the performances one note (though Sutherland is hilarious, albeit whether intentionally or not is unknown) and the spectacle of Pompeii's fall is if nothing else, flashy.  Don't think too much while watching Pompeii.  Just let the explosions come your way, laugh along with Sutherland's pretty crazy performance, and enjoy finding what scene came out of what other movie to form Pompeii

The destruction of a major city was never as entertaining as this.

DECISION: C+

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