You know what actually gave Titanic its emotional heft? It wasn’t the star-crossed romance between pretty young lovers. It was the band playing on. It was the elderly couple spooning on the bed as their cabin filled with water. It was the mother telling bedtime stories to her children to keep them calm despite the hopelessness of their situation.
Sadly, director Paul WS Anderson – he of Resident Evil, Alien vs Predator and steampunk The Three Musketeers fame – hasn’t realised this, and in Pompeii we therefore get an Ancient World-set disaster flick that takes as its core an utterly trite, uninvolving romance that doesn’t ring true at all.
Because as much as Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were mocked, they at least had onscreen charisma and chemistry. Pompeii lead Kit Harington may get to flash his six-pack a lot but his character – a surly, vengeful Celtic gladiator – just feels like a rehash of his character in Game of Thrones. As the daughter of a well-to-do Pompeii businessman, Emily Browning is supposed to represent principled goodness; but she has a doll-like vacancy about her. She does at least look of the era though, unlike Kiefer Sutherland’s villain, who continually distracts with his American accent and decidedly non-Roman appearance.
Pompeii would honestly have benefited more from adopting the same approach as 1970s disaster flicks like The Towering Inferno or The Poseidon Adventure. In these, a diverse ensemble cast of characters, each struggling with their own issues, is forced together. Pompeii could have been TV series Rome with a $100 million budget and top class special effects. Instead, it feels like a bad role-playing campaign where the plot is driven by coincidence. Example: “Oh look, the man who slaughtered my parents 15 years ago is here right now, intent on marrying the woman I love after meeting her for two minutes.”
To be fair, the gladiatorial scenes in Pompeii are coherently choreographed and genuinely exciting – even if weirdly bloodless for a film with a 16 age restriction. Overall, the production looks plush and convincing; there seems to have been a lot of effort spent on accurately depicting what life was like in the popular Roman holiday town. The multiple-staged eruption of Mount Vesuvius is also spectacular and benefits from the nice-but-still-not-essential 3D.
It’s just a pity that you never really care about anyone caught up the carnage. And as a result you have nothing to help suspend your disbelief that in such an apocalyptic scenario, people would still prioritise personal grudges and pretty girls above their own survival.
Pompeii’s final moment is about as cheesy as you can get. Expect groaning in the cinema for this reason, but also the sad fact that it calls to mind a dozen genuine archaeological finds that would have made for far more interesting stories than this glossy fake.
Last Updated: February 26, 2014