Milo (Kit Harington), a slave turned gladiator, sees his chance for justice and freedom when the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79AD throws the city of Pompeii into chaos. As Milo seizes his moment, however, he soon realises that he must also fight for the life of the woman he loves.
There is little doubt that the story of Pompeii, and the city being buried in ash and volcanic rock during the AD 79 eruption of Mount Vesuvius is an intriguing and epic one. Paul WS Anderson’s film, however, tries to turn toe tragedy of thousands of people being killed in a freak accident into a doomed love story. Sound familiar?
The cast is made up of Kit Harington as Milo, Emily Browning as Cassia, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Atticus, Kiefer Sutherland as Corvus, Jared Harris as Severus and Carrie-Anne Moss as Aurelia. Each member of the cast does what they can, but they are utterly lost in the hammy and campy tale that has been wrapped around the story of Vesuvius erupting. The cast are not allowed to ham it up enough for the film to work – although Kiefer Sutherland truly gives it his best shot – and so their performances fall surprisingly flat.
The script is filled with clumsy exposition and takes more than a few liberties with the story of Pompeii; adding disaster onto disaster, which leaves the film feeling faked and overdone. Screenwriters Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler and Michael Robert Johnson not only play fast and loose with historical fact, but they somehow manage to suck and fun out of the ridiculousness of ships sailing through city streets on a tsunami, and the citizens of Pompeii believing that the gods are punishing them while being struck with flaming rocks falling from the sky. A central story was needed, to hang the audience emotion on to, but the one we are given feels so convenient, contrived and familiar that the dramatic suddenly becomes laughable.
Director Paul WS Anderson has a name for making over the top movies, and Pompeii is certainly one of these; there is little in the film that feels real or natural; Kiefer Sutherland talks like he has swallowed a marble, and not even the gentle subtlety of Jared Harris can save this film from being camp, but not camp enough.
Pompeii is a film based on an epic and engaging true story. The film, however, feels horribly familiar, overdone and relies too heavily on special effects. The cast do what they can, but they are never really given a chance to outshine the ludicrousness of the set pieces and action sequences, and the clichéd and over the top script.