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Review by: 
Suicide Blonde
Release Date: 
Aspect Ratio: 
Directed by: 
Paul W. S. Anderson
Kit Harington
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje
Carrie-Anne Moss
Emily Browning
Kiefer Sutherland
Bottom Line: 

As brainless, good-time cinema goes, Pompeii is about as brainless as you would expect (come on, it’s a movie about a volcano directed by the guy who brought us Mortal Kombat), and not as much of a good time as it should be, but it’s still a fine way to occupy your mind on a Friday evening.

The movie opens in the very northern reaches of the Roman empire, when a young Celt sees his whole village massacred by a legion led by Roman Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland). The young Celt is captured and forced to become a gladiator named Jon Snow (Kit Harington). Jon Snow is quite the fighter and is brought to Pompeii to fight in the arena. Along the way he meets a Waifish Maiden (Emily Browning) and the two share a romantic moment while he performs a mercy killing on a horse. I’m not making this up.

Waifish Maiden is returning home to Pompeii after finding Rome too scuzzy and corrupt for her delicate sensibilities. Unfortunately her parents Lane Pryce (Jared Harris) and Hey-That’s-Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) are brokering a business deal with Roman Jack Bauer (who miraculously has not aged at all since the opening backstory sequence), who wants to force Waifish Maiden into marriage. Meanwhile, Jon Snow is set to fight to the death against veteran gladiator and all-around badass Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, stealing every scene he’s in). All the while, Mount Vesuvius looms ominously over the proceedings, and earth tremors shake the city at random moments.

Will Jon Snow and Waifish Maiden become instant soulmates even though they spend less than 24 hours in each other’s company? Will Jon Snow and Atticus team up to kick Roman ass? Will Jon Snow have to save Waifish Maiden from both the volcano and Roman Jack Bauer? Will the volcano kill people in ascending order of their listing in the credits? Will history, science, and physics be thrown completely out the window in favor of cinematic spectacle?

There are two main problems with Pompeii. The first is its opening setup of backstory, which takes entirely too long. Director Anderson could have taken a page from Mortal Kombat (bear with me, I’m serious), which gave us just enough backstory and characters to give a hoot about what was happening, and then served up loads of fun and action. But Pompeii lumbers along, carefully setting everything up, when really everyone involved should have realized that all the audience wants is hot volcano action, with some gladiator fights and Roman decadence thrown in because why not.

The second problem is the cast, only two of whom seem to understand what kind of movie everyone really wants to see. Those two are Sutherland and Akinnuoye-Agbaje. The former apparently decided to go the Snidely Whiplash route of villainy (not that there’s anything wrong with that); the latter turns in the movie’s most memorable performance (there’s a reason that his character’s name is the only one I can remember) that’s equal parts cynicism, optimism, and pure bad-assery. Unfortunately, every scene without these two is relatively inert, and despite the longing looks they cast each other, Jon Snow and Waifish Maiden mostly seem paired up because they’re young and attractive.

Fortunately, when Mount Vesuvius finally pops its cork and fucks shit up, it does so in style. I’m going to take this moment to be That Gal and casually mention that I saw the Pompeii exhibit at the California Science Center earlier this year, and that the movie’s depiction of Vesuvius’ eruption was not as inaccurate as I thought it would be. Granted, this isn’t saying much—after all, the movie’s depiction of the eruption gives us multiple earthquakes with huge chunks of land falling into the sea, along with a tidal wave—but at least there were no rivers of lava. Hey, in my line of work, you learn to be thankful for the little things.

A little less seriousness and a lot more trashy fun would have made the movie more enjoyable, but if you, like me, are a sucker for a good volcano sequence, you could do worse. 

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