May 9, 2014 NSR Admin

Film Review: Pompeii (12A)

Setting a personal story within historical tragedy makes significant narrative sense, see providing impossible odds, buy cialis thrilling encounters with death, buy and opportunities to exploit both the best and worst elements of human nature. There is even a preordained sequence of events to use as structure. Following the impossible-love formula of Titanic, director Paul W.S. Anderson has taken us back two millennia, to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and the destruction of the Roman city of Pompeii.

We meet our hero, Milo (Kit Harrington), as a child, during the massacre of his people by the Romans in northern Britannia. Fast-forward seventeen years and he is now a feisty, ‘abtastic’ gladiator in Londinium, about to be sent to Pompeii where he is to fight Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) in the arena. There he meets Cassia, the daughter of the local ruler, with whom he begins a class-defying romance. Unfortunately for all concerned, vicious Roman senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) is visiting, who had led the slaughter of Milo’s family and intends to marry Cassia. Along the way there are gladiatorial battles, romantic horse rides, and male bonding, all before the local tourist attraction goes mental.

The tagline for Pompeii reads ‘No Warning. No Escape’, which somewhat forgets the constant reminders given that something bad is about to happen. The ground caves in, tremors occur every five minutes, and cracks appear faster than at a construction workers’ yoga convention. One clever-clogs even realises (too late) that everything is going pear-shaped and decides to scarper. Sadly, it is extremely difficult to care about the impending doom of an entire city when trying not to laugh at risible dialogue, pantomime villainy and a budget stretched thin.

There will be few surprises for viewers, as the plot follows conventions to the letter, while the dialogue is either thinly-veiled exposition or clichéd character development. The romance between Milo and Cassia is unbelievable and there seems little narrative drive, as if the inevitability of a bombastic third act makes proper structure unnecessary. Pompeii feels like a series of scenes strung together rather than a considered story with causal momentum. While there is fun to be had from such B-Movie tropes, there is never a sense of genuine engagement with the material. The acting is incredibly average, with only Sutherland having any fun playing it very camp and sporting a wonderfully appalling English accent.

The combat scenes scattered through the film are decently choreographed and relatively inventive, with some entertaining moments during the Pompeii arena set-piece. Our hero is pitted against ludicrous odds, but there is never a sense of true jeopardy. Distractingly, there is a real dissonance between the crunchiness of the violence and the lack of any visceral gore. That isn’t to say that combat requires spurting blood to be exciting, but when a giant man sets about with an equally giant axe, it is unrealistic that not a drop should spill. The whole thing has the sense of a dress-rehearsal before the big event. It is possible to create thrilling action within the strictures of a 12A certificate, but this is not achieved by filming Gladiator level action and neglecting to add blood in post-production.

During the volcanic climax there is plenty of spectacle to be entertained by, and it is easy to see where the budget was primarily focussed as the visual effects are well realised. The problem is that, when there is no emotional investment, it is hard to care about any mortal threat. If disbelief has not been suspended, the extras being crushed, burnt and trampled seem almost comic, rather than tragic.

Pompeii is a film that is never boring, but for all the wrong reasons. A script that could be the result of an internet cliché generator, with characters to match, entertains through sheer stupidity, and an explosive climax only serves to highlight the narrative flaws. In a word, Pompainful.

Peter Wood