Before I start, let me say that I am not your typical movie critic who loves bashing movies. I actually am less critical than most people. Maybe I have lower standards. Maybe I’m too forgiving. Or maybe everyone else is just too picky.
So when I say Pompeii is a below-average movie, it must be genuinely below average.
The Sony press release describes the movie this way: “Set in 79 A.D., Pompeii tells the epic story of Milo (Kit Harington), a slave turned invincible gladiator who finds himself in a race against time to save his true love Cassia (Emily Browning), the beautiful daughter of a wealthy merchant who has been unwillingly betrothed to a corrupt Roman Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland). As Mount Vesuvius erupts in a torrent of blazing lava, Milo must fight his way out of the arena in order to save his beloved as the once magnificent Pompeii crumbles around him.”
Some critics likened Pompeii to Titanic in that (1) both films are disaster epics, with the volcano in Pompeii standing in for the iceberg in Titanic, and (2) both films features a poor young man who wins the heart of a rich girl who is engaged to a bad guy.
That’s where the similarities end, though.
- The 3D is gorgeous. Many scenes were shot in 3D and such scenes are a feast for the eyes.
- Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is fantastic as Atticus, a warrior trying to win his freedom who ends up befriending Milo.
- The visuals in general are grand, from the coliseum to the city of Pompeii to the special effects when Vesuvius blows its top.
- Emily Browning does a fair enough job as the heroine Cassia.
- Although there is some sexualization of teens in this movie (as Cassia sometimes bares cleavage, and also is forcibly betrothed to Corvus—who is old enough to be her father), the engagement relationship of the older Corvus and young Cassia is shown in a negative light.
- According to scientists, the catastrophe parts are historically accurate except for the lava bombs and titanic tsunami.
- The movie starts by showing how the evil Corvus slaughtered a little kid’s family and town. I guess I’m dense but I thought the kid was a girl because of the little child’s long hair. This was confusing later b/c I couldn’t figure out what happened to that little girl…I actually wondered if she become Cassia. Well, turns out the “girl” was really a young Milo. The filmmakers should have followed the visual cue from 300, another gladiator pic, where young boys had short hair so there is no misunderstanding.
- Kit Harington does a poor job with Milo. His buff body would give Gerard Butler in 300 a run for his money, but Harington’s acting is terrible. He appears to only have one expression the entire movie, whether he’s sad, pensive, in love or angry.
- A highly predictable yet unbelievable scene shows a lifeless Corvus after the coliseum collapses from a volcanic tremor, yet when Cassia’s father attempts to kill him, Corvus suddenly is awake and super-strong, preventing Cassia’s father from killing him. I know it’s a movie, but you can’t go from unmoving (after a coliseum roof falls on you) to awake and mighty in the blink of an eye. I am happy to suspend my disbelief for these types of movies, but come on now.
- Character development took a big backseat in the movie. Do we know anything about Milo besides the fact he wants revenge for his family’s slaughter, and that he can fight? And how did Milo get to be so good at fighting? Does he have a plan to escape? Atticus tells us his plan for freedom, but we get nary an idea what’s running through Milo’s mind. And do we know anything about Cassia besides the fact she visited Rome and was glad to leave there?
- The love relationship between Milo and Cassia is superficial at best. Yes, Milo proves to be a horse whisperer of sorts, but nevertheless, their attraction to each other is purely based on each other’s looks. Cassia knows nothing about—nor seems to care to investigate—Milo’s past or his general character before falling in love. And Cassia is from the same nation (Italy) that killed Milo’s family in Britannia—yet we are not told why Milo apparently overlooks that fact, despite being in revenge mode.
- But by far, the biggest problem with this movie is that (warning: spoiler alert… skip this paragraph if you intend to watch the movie…last warning) …yes, easily the biggest problem with this movie is that everyone dies. Milo and Cassia handcuff Corvus in their final battle and let him get burned to death by the oncoming lava/firestorm, yet Milo and Cassia suffer the same fate of being burned up as the bad guys did. The official press release trumpets Milo’s attempt to save his beloved, which seems to imply that he will save her…that he and Cassia are the only ones to make it out alive. But despite their repeated evasions of death, eventually they still die the same way all the evil people did. Since this film is clearly historical fiction (like Titanic), a more hopeful and endearing movie would have had at least one (or both) of them survive, as the fictional Rose did in Titanic. In the end, you ask yourself, what was the point of following these characters and hoping they make it? Records indicate that many people did in fact escape…so why not the hero and/or heroine? That’s just plain dumb.
I love, love, love disaster movies, dating back to when I saw Twister on the big screen. On the big screen and in 3D, disaster movies are SO cool to me. I guess it reminds me of the book of Revelation, how fragile man’s life is, how full-scale disaster is coming, and how awesome God is since He controls disasters. But this movie, while grandly showing the scale of the disaster of historical Pompeii, also grandly flops in its storytelling attempt of the human element of the film.
Bottom line: ** (that’s two stars out of four)