Cheap Gladiator fan fiction with a touch of Titanic and Dante’s Peak, that would be a very accurate description of Pompeii. Kit Harington stars as Milo, a man whose family is killed by the Romans and who becomes a gladiator. This leads him to the titular city of Pompeii, where he both meets the love of his life, who happens to be the city ruler’s daughter, and the now Roman senator who was responsible for slaughtering Milo’s kin. A tale of star-crossed lovers and revenge ensues, at least, that’s what the film’s striving for while it fails utterly to provide an enthralling narrative to captivate its audience. Pompeii mostly rips off much better films, copies entire scenes from its examples, which makes it very hard to immerse yourself in the tale it’s trying to tell. In the end, you’re rooting for Pompeii‘s volcano, which is never a good sign.
The movie’s script is absolutely terrible: it takes scenes from some of the writers’ favorite movies and ties them together with dull and ham-fisted expositionary dialogue, made even more cringeworthy by some of the most wooden acting I’ve seen in a long time, especially from the film’s lead: Kit Harington is a gruff man of few words who mostly only manages to emote he’s confused or angry or both. On the other end of the spectrum is Keifer Sutherland, who plays the evil mustache-twirling villain of the film. His delivery is so hammy, his demeanor so pompous and accent so posh, that it’s clear he’s having a ball, but his performance doesn’t benefit the character: you’re watching a cartoon character and a cartoon is rarely threatening. It’s obvious though that the actors have very little to work with, that they’re handed one-note men and women to portray in a narrative that is so trite and forced it’s not even funny. There was urgency and warmth to Gladiator and Titanic, the two movies Pompeii so obviously looks up to, but Pompeii never captures any of that: Milo gets to Pompeii by chance, meets the vile senator by chance, and apparently falls in love with a girl who he’s maybe seen fifteen minutes tops in the two-day span he’s there. The film lacks build-up and heart, is plot-driven instead of character-driven, which makes it a hokey mess. You don’t buy these people and their relationships, let alone their daring antics to get to each other once disaster strikes.
When Mount Vesuvius finally erupts though, the effects are quite convincing. The only problem is that the way the disaster plays out is devoid of tension and that Paul W.S. Anderson’s direction makes some moments more slapstick than tense, terrible and harrowing, which is undoubtedly what he was going for. The disaster’s physics are off too, which, again, takes you out of the movie. There’s a tidal wave for example that magically stops once our leads pass a gate, suddenly losing all its force and momentum. Apart from the volcano itself the other special effects don’t fare as well: the city and backgrounds often look fake and a scene near the film’s “climax” reminds you of something straight out of a video game because everything on screen, except the actor, is computer-generated.
Pompeii is a dumb, unoriginal and bland swords and sandals disaster movie that is itself a disaster of a movie. 3/10