Author: J.A. Hyde
February 21, 2014

SYNOPSIS: 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. 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. (© Sony Pictures)

Pompeii, a film by director Paul W. S. Anderson, offers a melodramatic account of the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 AD. My movie buddy – and several others – described it as “Titanic meets Gladiator,” and they certainly have a point. On one hand, there’s the beautiful, wealthy young woman falling for a young man much beneath her station in life against the backdrop of an epic catastrophe, and on the other hand, you have so many scenes lifted straight from Ridley Scott’s Gladiator that I’m surprised the film wasn’t dedicated to him!

Kit Harrington, of Game of Thrones fame, portrays Milo, the Celt. As a boy he witnessed a Roman garrison led by Corus (Kiefer Sutherland) and his lieutenant Proculus (Sasha Roiz). Milo, the only survivor, is captured and sold into slavery. Fast forward about a dozen years, and he’s now a slave/gladiator who fights and lives to exact revenge on the killers of his people. Mr. Harrington is not a big man, so the writers compensate by having him be faster than everyone else. Even though he bulked up considerably for the role, he’s still obviously much smaller than the other gladiators. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who has arguably the best lines in the script, plays aging, but still champion, gladiator Atticus. He’s on the verge of earning his freedom, but when he learns that the Romans are not true to their word, he allies himself with Milo in the arena.

The love story concerns Milo, the lowly slave, and Cassia (Emily Browning), daughter of the wealthy Severus (Jared Harris) and Aurelia (Carrie-Anne Moss). The film is worth seeing just to view their sumptuous villa on a rocky cliff, unfortunately in the shadow of Vesuvius. Cassia has been away in Rome – it’s never really explained what she was doing there – and has returned early. On her journey, her wagon breaks down, injuring one of the horses, and Milo is unshackled and pulled out of the line of slaves to help. Their eyes meet, and, well, you know the rest – young, forbidden love and all that.

It turns out that one of the reasons Cassia left Rome early was to escape the unwanted advances of Corus, now a powerful Senator with the ear of the Emperor Titus. He shows up unexpectedly at Severus’s villa in Pompeii to consider a business proposition Severus would like funded by the Emperor. Still at his side is the ruthless Proculus. The only person more dismayed to see them than Cassia is Milo, who remembers them distinctly from the slaughter of his people. Of course, Milo becomes more determined to avenge his family even though that seems unlikely.

Meanwhile, the audience is waiting for the eruption scenes which promise to be more exciting than the trite story line. The film is shot in 3D, so the flying ash and fireballs seem up close and personal. The disaster scenes with the fleeing crowds are certainly epic in proportion, but you just have to wonder why Milo and Cassia, reunited by the calamity, aren’t overcome by poisonous gasses. In reality, they would not have been able to run through the ruins of the city as they do.

The main reason to see this film, aside from the eruption scenes, is the depiction of life in 79 AD Pompeii. Otherwise, the plot is completely predictable. Kiefer Sutherland hams it up as the evil Corus. In fact, his signature line – delivered on several occasions – is “Kill them! Kill them all!” Harrington and Browning lack the chemistry of Jack and Rose in Titanic, but they perform adequately. Luckily, everyone speaks with a British accent which helps distract from the banality of the script. I must say, however, that I did find the ending appropriate.

is not a bad film. It’s just not a great one. I found myself tallying up the similarities to Gladiator, to the detriment of Pompeii. The preview audience seemed to enjoy it, and there was even some applause at the end. However, that being said, I don’t think it’s going to knock The Lego Movie out of first place at the box office. - JoAnne Hyde


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