Somewhere in between directing installments of the Resident Evil franchise and producing Asylum-esque features, Paul W.S. Anderson found the time to churn out Pompeii. Now this isn’t the type of film that is going to win any awards – let us not fool ourselves here. I don’t think anyone in the cast, crew, or audience ever thought that, but what I don’t understand is exactly what it is trying to accomplish. Pompeii doesn’t know whether it is an action flick, a love story, or another disaster movie and to be honest it is a bit distracting. The film suffers dearly for attempting to cram too much stuff in too little time and that is with a 105 minute runtime.
Anderson opens with our Hero, Kit Harrington of Game of Thrones, witnessing his family and people being murdered at the behest of Senator Corvus – played by Kiefer Sutherland no less. Being the only surviving member of his people he takes to the countryside where he is eventually captured and sold into slavery. After a 17 year jump in time, it is apparent that our hero, Milo, has become some sort of invincible super gladiator who is eventually sent to Pompeii to fight in a larger market. Along the way he meets Lady Cassia (Sucker Punch‘s Emily Browning) who falls in love after watching the Hero perform perhaps the most romantic gesture of its time – the snapping of her horse’s neck in a mercy killing.
For the next 45 minutes we are introduced to a host of nameless gladiators who serve only as fodder. The story’s narrative takes a turn when Senator Corvus comes to Pompeii on Roman business – man who saw that one coming? Can you guess what comes next?
The ensuing love story between Harrington and Browning’s character develops so fast that I am almost positive that the Hero’s name, which is a point of bonding between Harrington and co-star Adewale Akinnuote-Agbaje the Champion of Pompeii, is never actually spoken to Cassia. And then before you know it… Spoiler Alert: The volcano erupts.
While this is what most of the action is focused on in the third act it actually works against Pompeii. The plot already had two dominate narratives jockeying for space before that dang volcano blew. Between the hasty love story and the shallow Good vs. Evil – Corvus vs. the Hero, threads there wasn’t really much room for anything else. Not to mention a good chunk of time is devoted to racking up the body count, though with the PG-13 stamp the action is not satisfying enough for ultra-violent fans to get their fix. With a few CGI’d scenes of the destruction and an unsatisfying chase scene to usher in the final battle, Pompeii falls victim to its own pace.
But none of this bothers me. Pompeii is simply a movie – not a film or a piece of cinema – just a movie. The type most people will watch once and then never again, to be forgotten among the mess of a Netflix queue. There are no expectations with entertainment like this. Pompeii never takes itself seriously and never pretends to masquerade as something it is not. There are no airs or pretension around going to see Pompeii – it is a popcorn flick, it will leave the radar as fast as it came in. If you caught a matinee you’d forget you’d seen it by bedtime.