Tuesday, March 4, 2014


“Resident Evil” director Paul W.S. Anderson must have loved both “Titanic” and “Gladiator” because “Pompeii” (*** OUT OF ****) appropriates the template and tropes from those blockbusters.  Nevertheless, “Pompeii” is not primarily a chick flick.  “Game of Thrones” actor Kit Harington plays an enslaved warrior who lost his entire family when sadistic Romans slaughtered them in Britain.  Harington is cast as the impoverished, but virtuous protagonist, while porcelain-faced Emily Browning plays Cassia, the pampered daughter of an affluent Pompeii entrepreneur.  Cassia has had enough of Imperial Roman society and repellent Romans, specifically the wicked Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) who displays no qualms about killing not only the enemy but also his own if the mood strikes him.  Aside from an invincible African-American gladiator (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) already imprisoned at Pompeii, Anderson and his three scenarists confine themselves to this handful of characters, with a few loitering on the periphery.  Indeed, characterization is kept to a demographic minimum.  Not surprisingly, you’ll sympathize with our tragic lovers while you’ll abhor Corvus with a passion and applaud his comeuppance.  If you’ve seen either “Titanic” or “Gladiator,” you’ll know what is going to happen to these characters before they do.  “Batman Forever” co-scripters Janet Scott Batchler and Lee Batchler plus “Sherlock Holmes” scribe Michael Robert Johnson have recycled all the usual clichés.  Anderson doesn’t let anything interfere with the headlong momentum that he generates. 

“Pompeii” unfolds in 62 AD in Britannia.  A long-haired youngster, Milo (Dylan Schombing), escapes death from the swords of ruthless Roman soldiers.  Corvus and his army annihilate Milo’s tribe of Celtic horsemen.  The Romans mistake young Milo for one of the dead and add his body to a pile of corpses.  This is the familiar scene where the villains think our hero is dead, but really isn’t dead.  The last big-screen movie that used this trope was “The Lone Ranger.”  Nevertheless, the ‘mistaken for dead’ trope works dependably for “Pompeii.”  Eventually, after he proves his mettle on the battlefield as a superb horseman, Milo is enslaved.  Years later, a Roman slave trader, Graecus (Joe Pingue) spots Milo, who has since acquired the moniker ‘the Celt’ for his fearless pugnacity.  Milo is the equivalent of William Wallace in “Braveheart.”  Milo makes mincemeat out of all his adversaries.  He winds up in Pompeii where he will clash swords with the undefeated champ, Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje of “Congo”), a bold combatant both agile and confident.  Opposites through and through from pigment to pugnacity, these guys will have each other’s back before the fat volcano sings.

Our hero and heroine meet on the road to Pompeii.  One of the horses drawing Cassia’s carriage collapses.  Milo intervenes despite the protest of his captor.  As a member of the aristocracy, Cassia shields Milo from charges of insubordination for putting the horse out of its misery.  She was on the way back from Rome where she had spent a year.  Apparently, Cassia had a romantic relationship that ended awfully for both parties.  Now, it is love at first sight when she sees Milo.  The love that Milo feels for her will prompt him later to defy death.  Meanwhile, Milo must battle lethal opponents in the arena.  Eventually, Atticus and he become allies in the face of surely insurmountable odds.   “Pompeii” boasts several exciting combat sequences, and the one in the arena against many Roman soldiers is reminiscent of something from his “Resident Evil” epics.  Anderson orchestrates these close quarters combat scenes with agility and style.  The actors parry and thrust in ways that bring out the ferocity and eloquence of the sword fights.  Naturally, Cassia reacts with horror when Corvus demands she marry him or see her parents ruined.  Jared Harris of “Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows” and Carrie Moss of “The Matrix” are relegated to secondary victim roles as Cassia’s father Severus and mother Aurelia.  Sadly, Moss models apparel without any gravity-defying martial arts moves.

“Pompeii” is predictable, but exciting nonsense.  About an hour into the action, Mount Vesuvius erupts, and comparisons with “Dante’s Peake” are inevitable.  An alien attack couldn’t be any more devastating than the multitude of fireballs catapulted from the combustible crucible of Vesuvius.  Anderson and his CGI artists have forged a spectacular fireworks show.  The scenes of people scrambling chaotically to reach the Bay of Naples and the sanctuary of a ship at sea are exhilarating.  As it turns out, even the ships aren’t safe from these fireballs.  During the third half-hour, our hero and heroine run desperately for their lives.  Atticus is battling his adversaries in an effort to reach Milo, and Corvus is struggling to break through a mob of citizens who have him mired down in the streets.  Simultaneously, Vesuvius unleashes one barrage of fireballs after another.  Anderson really accelerates the action during the third half-hour.

Surprisingly enough, at least to me, I enjoyed this Tristar Pictures release, but I have a soft spot for gladiator movies.  “Pompeii” qualifies as more of an actioneer than a chick flick.  Notably, our lovers are young, but they never consummate their soulful relationship which makes their love all the more chaste.  The slam-bang ending that audiences may not buy because things end tragically is probably the strongest thing about “Pompeii.”  Mind you, Anderson has made a gripping little sword and sandal saga with a love story to sweeten up the shenanigans.  The heroes are virtuous; the villains are vicious; and the wrath of Mother Nature is vast in its fury.  Mount Vesuvius grumbles ominously in the background until it explodes and earthquakes rock the city.  Clocking in at a Spartan 98-minutes,“Pompeii” never wears out its welcome, and its breathtaking CGI reenactment of Mount Vesuvius blowing its stack is lavishly larger-than-life.  Naturally, the CGI imagery here surpasses anything three earlier movies, such as the 1913 silent version as well as the 1935 as well as 19959 versions of “The Last Days of Pompeii,” offered.

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