At the Movies: Pompeii

Before 2012… Before Titanic… Before The Towering Inferno… There was Pompeii.

Around the sixth or seventh century B.C., the port city of Pompeii was founded in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius. It was utterly destroyed when the volcano blew its top in 79 A.D.

You may be thinking, “those silly primitives — building a city near an active volcano.” But consider how many businesses have been built in the Chesterfield Valley since the Great Flood of 1993.

Clearly a disaster this epic has just been lying around waiting to be made into a film, and Paul W. S. Anderson was just the man to do it — and in fire-breathing 3D, to boot.

Now, destroying a city by fire and ash doesn’t take too long, so how does one hold the audience’s attention for the hour of preliminaries before the main event? Anderson’s answer is a mix of “Conan the Barbarian,” gladiator movies and Disney Princess films.

hr_Pompeii_6Kit Harington stars as Conan — I mean Milo — who as a child bears witness to the murder of his parents and entire tribe by Roman soldiers led by Senator Corvis (Kiefer Sutherland). Milo winds up enslaved and grows up to be an ace gladiator and horse whisperer.

Milo and several other slaves are being marched to Pompeii to compete in the gladiator games. On the road he has a chance encounter with Cassia (Emily Browning), the beautiful daughter of city leaders Severus (Jared Harris) and  Aurelia (Carrie-Anne Moss). Cassia and Milo bond over an injured horse, but he’s quickly shuffled off to the gladiator pits while she’s reunited with her parents.

Cassia has returned to Pompeii to escape the advances of Senator Corvis (big coincidence, huh?). The senator arrives closely behind, threatening trouble for the family if Cassia isn’t more compliant.

Meanwhile in the slave pits, Milo finds a friend in fellow gladiator Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). Atticus is one victory away from freedom; unfortunately that last victory will have to be over Milo.

Is that enough drama and intrigue for you? These plot threads ramble along in predictable fashion before coming together in the arena. And just as things are approaching critical mass in the lives of our protagonists, things really hit critical mass up on the mountain.

“Pompeii” is a cheesy, predictable sword-and-sandals meets disaster movie. Every storyline is played out to maximum mainstream audience appeal. If you’re a sucker for that sort of thing, you’ll probably enjoy it. I’m not a sucker for this sort of thing, yet I did find it entertaining in a “guilty pleasure” sort of way.

Keifer Sutherland feels really out-of-place here but the rest of the cast is fine. The 3D upgrade is unnecessary. As disasters go, erupting volcano really isn’t that impressive — billowing smoke and flying fireballs are nothing new. The tidal wave is actually the niftiest piece of destruction.

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