'Pompeii' Blows, Sends Unintentional Comedy Flying Everywhere

(L-R) Emily Browning and Kit Harington in Pompeii. (Photo by Tri-Star) Long story short: Lazy writing and storytelling doom any emotional connection to Pompeii, but the volcano does erupt, if that's your thing.

Pompeii will remind you of: Gladiator, Braveheart, Dante's Peak, Volcano, 2012

Review: Unbearably lazy during its first half,
Pompeii eventually erupts, along with Vesuvius, morphing from a contrived gladiator movie into a contrived disaster movie. It begins lazily by introducing a hero and story that are completely unoriginal in every way: A slave becomes a gladiator and becomes powerful by winning the hearts of the people. He also wins the heart of a noble woman and befriends a champion fighter. The story doesn't matter though. This is an effects-driven film made to show off how cool director Paul W.S. Anderson can make a volcano eruption look. It does that, and only that.

Disaster movie fans should be entertained by the massive eruption of Mount Vesuvius in Pompeii. The ground crumbles and falls apart, the mountain roars and explodes in molten fury, and the quiet Roman city becomes hell on Earth as the people flee the horror. It's also unintentionally hilarious as giant rocks smother people and they moan awkwardly before being crushed out of frame. But we'll get back to the eruption.

The hero (Kit Harington) is introduced as a boy who sees his family killed by powerful men on horseback just like William Wallace in Braveheart. Fast forward to present-time 79 AD and he's now "The Celt," a geographical nickname not unlike "The Spaniard" in Gladiator. The Celt is a wicked bad-ass gladiator himself even though he's 5'8" and weighs about 170. He whips five dudes at a time because he's "fast." Sold to a nobleman in Pompeii, The Celt meets a local champion (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and befriends him before they're both thrown to the wolves in a gladiatorial battle recreation. Yes, that happened in Gladiator too and it's not the last time Pompeii steals plot details from that movie. 

On his way to Pompeii, The Celt is spotted by a noble lady named Cassia (Emily Browning), who watches him snap a wounded horse's neck out of mercy. "It was the kindest thing to do." She tells her servant wench/best friend (Jessica Lucas). Indeed. After a second meeting with The Celt, also involving horses, Cassia declares "He makes me feel alive." Indeed again. Unfortunately, profound declarations of love are not made more believable by a British accent. Cassia's words come off as high comedy since she hasn't earned the right to say them.

The contrived dialogue is equally apparent in scenes involving Pompeii's villain, Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland). He's the Roman general-turned-senator who killed the Celt's family back in the day and who conveniently shows up in Pompeii to force Cassia to marry him.

Corvus killed the Celt's family and now he wants to steal his girl? Dick move, buddy. The Celt won't be happy. 

But before The Celt and Corvus can face off, they must contend with the volcano. Anderson shows us a bird's eye view of the crater and the bubbling lava inside. The entire city shakes from mini-earthquakes, predicting an eruption (and standing in contrast to the poster's inaccurate tagline). But nobody in the city pays any attention to the ground rumbling below. "Did you feel that?" Is about all The Celt manages to contribute. The city holds an annual festival and the gladiators fight it out in the amphitheater as the volcano steams in the distance.

Then the volcano erupts and, even though you'd think all bets would be off, the main characters manage to find one another and carry out their personal vendettas via hand to hand combat. There's lots of swordplay in Pompeii and some of it, like Akinnuoye-Agbaje throwing an axe into someone's chest, is brutal fun. But since characters aren't developed and the story is so weak, there's no one to invest in. It's an interesting idea to create a story behind the famous frozen victims of Pompeii, but who cares if they're all frozen to begin with?

Senior Editor at Zimbio. I've been everywhere and done everything. Now I write about movies. It's awesome.