Editor’s Notes: Pompeii opens in wide theatrical release today, February 21st.
I like to think this is a safe place. A place where we can be candid with one another. I am very sensitive to the nature of spoilers. In all of my reviews I make a point of not going into too much detail when providing a synopsis, and generally focus my review on the execution of what’s onscreen. This spoiler avoidance does not typically hamper the discussion of a film’s merits and flaws, although I always encourage people to see a film before reading anything about it. Nevertheless, if you are the type of person that considers the sinking of the Titanic as a spoiler to Titanic, just please get up and leave. Mt. Vesuvius erupts and destroys Pompeii. That is history. Stating that said destruction is the only thing of note in Pompeii. That is a review.
The film’s entire structure is snatched from Titanic. From the connect-the-dot plot points to the characterizations, the only real difference is a change in setting.
Following the death of not only his family, but his entire town, at the hands of a Roman commander, Milo (Kit Harington) becomes a slave. Over the years, his slavery finds him featured in numerous gladiatorial combats. The fire in Milo’s heart makes him a formidable opponent, while his size has him underestimated. After striking the fancy of a particular slave trader, Milo makes his way to Pompeii for a high-profile gladiatorial bout. Meanwhile, Cassia (Emily Browning) returns early from Rome, having found the location and its people distasteful. Cassia and Milo meet by chance on the journey to Pompeii and are immediately enthralled with one another. Unfortunately for Cassia, she cannot escape Rome so easily, and the villainous Roman Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) arrives in Pompeii to take her as his wife. Amidst all of the romance and drama, a volcano rumbles to life, putting the entire city in jeopardy.
My mentioning of Titanic was no mere accident. Both Pompeii and Titanic are big historical event films. The type of movies where even those napping through middle school history class has an idea of what went down. But, that is just the beginning of a whole pile of similarities. The tip of the iceberg, if you will (don’t act surprised). The film’s entire structure is snatched from Titanic. From the connect-the-dot plot points to the characterizations, the only real difference is a change in setting. Oh, and lest I forget, there is also no real attempt at any plot or character development. I imagine the writers were scrambling for a way to tell a story centered on the eruption of Vesuvius. In these troubling times of desperate creativity they happened upon the Titanic Wikipedia page and figured that changing the central tragic event would make it different enough. They then cranked out a poorly written draft that never saw edits.
The majority of Pompeii possesses an air of boredom with itself, making us question why it should even deserve our attention.
Additionally, it appears that all films set during Roman times now must feature a lead character that goes through a gladiator phase. Based on Hollywood’s output, it appears as if all the best men during the Roman Empire were not only slaves, but the best gladiators around. They all come from tragic pasts that often involve the slaughter of everyone they loved. These gladiators will fall in love with some strong-willed female of high regard and their love will be fraught with obstacles. This simplification of the time period is a disservice to cinema. To assume that these are the only stories to be told in this setting is insulting to the intelligence of the audience members. It also is a mark of laziness and lack of creativity.
Ultimately, that is Pompeii’s biggest problem. The film is so lazy in its construction and execution so as to give you nothing to really care about. The plot is exceedingly predictable to the point of being rendered rote. There is no suspense to be had, as the film doesn’t even try to do anything unique or thought provoking. As the film drifts along, your mind simply dumps it in the trash, as there is no reason to keep an active log of something so unspectacular. Not even the actors seem to care. Kit Harington is no leading man. This personality black hole fails to elicit a modicum of authentic emotion and is a bore to behold. Kiefer Sutherland struggles to keep ahold of his accent of choice, while Jared Harris is barely present, seemingly more concerned with figuring out when he will get paid for this turd. The majority of Pompeii possesses an air of boredom with itself, making us question why it should even deserve our attention.
For a film that is apparently already tired of itself, like a nihilistic teenager, should not even merit an emotional response in either direction. It should just drift away, as if it never was. For the most part, this is Pompeii, a forgettably bad bit of theater filler. Then there is the film’s last shot. A moment where it hopes to conjure feelings of everlasting love, to milk that idealistic sensibility that comes inscribed on youth. The shot, which I will not spoil, is so ridiculous, entitled, undeserving, and unrealistic (said with no irony), that the only appropriate response is a dismissive laugh and an offended brush-off. The impressive eruption of Vesuvius, the only part of the film that deserves to be seen, had me ready to allow the saccharine attempt at romance slide, forgive the assembly-line familiarity, even dismiss the charmless actors, then that final shot comes along, and makes you realize just how bad all this shit smells. This is not a film that revels in its own low quality, or comes from a place of honesty. Pompeii is a lazily assembled film that recycles the plot and characterization of its betters. It is amateurly written, poorly acted and fails to connect on nearly every level. Worst of all, it doesn’t even have the courtesy to let itself be merely a fart in the wind, with an ending that is so mishandled as to make the stench unavoidable.
[notification type=”star”]20/100 ~ PAINFUL. Pompeii is a lazily assembled film that recycles the plot and characterization of its betters. It is amateurly written, poorly acted and fails to connect on nearly every level.[/notification]