Release date: 30th April 2014
Running Time: 105 minutes
Director: Paul W S Anderson
Starring: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kiefer Sutherland, Jared Harris, Carrie-Anne Moss
Director Paul W S Anderson gets a lot of flack these days, and it’s not hard to see why: creator of that much maligned beast Alien Vs Predator, and spawner of Resident Evil sequels, his films are hardly the height of sophistication. If there’s one thing to be said of him however it’s that he’s an astute businessman, and is well aware of his audience. Now with Pompeii, he’s dropped the Horror/Sci-Fi ass-kickery in favour of, well, historical ass-kickery, with a side order of disaster movie thrown in. Think Gladiator meets Dante’s Peak, and whilst never reaching the dizzy heights of the former or, erm, indeed the latter, it’s a film that delivers pretty much exactly what it promises.
In the prologue we see Milo (Game of Thrones‘ Kit Harrington) as a young boy, his family slaughtered by Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) and his merry band of bastard Romans. Jump 17 years later, and Milo is now a slave known only as “The Celt”, and after showing off his fighting talents is taken to Pompeii to fight in the Gladiatorial arena. Whilst there he meets and falls in love with the high-born Cassia (Browning), who is also the subject of Corvus’ affections, although she loathes him. And then a volcano happens! It’s a pretty basic setup, one which more than recalls Titanic in having a real life disaster become the background for a made-up love story. Thankfully unlike Titanic however, this takes itself a lot less seriously.
Everyone seems to be having fun here, not least Kiefer Sutherland as the sleazy OTT bad guy with the extremely muddled accent. It would be easy to say that he’s just plain terrible, but what’s immediately clear is that he’s very much aware of the film he’s starring in: he totally gets the material. Strutting around and chewing up the scenery whilst coming across like a sort of camp version of Tom Hardy’s Bane, his performance is hysterical. Similarly, Akinnuoye-Agbaje has fun playing Milo’s rock-hard Gladiator Pal Atticus, who spends most of his screen time shouting and punching people. As for Harington, making the jump from the small screen to a blockbuster leading man isn’t the easiest task, and he handles it alright, although his character his somewhat of a wet blanket.
The spectacle ticks all the boxes too: the sets and costumes are impressive, the violence surprisingly brutal for its 12A rating, and when Vesuvius finally does blow her top there is fun to be had in amongst the sometimes-ropey CGI. Cashing in on the world’s obsession with Game of Thrones, Kit Harington’s abs get plenty of screentime too, showing that this has been made with a female audience in mind. It provides much needed respite from the “tits and gore” potholes the historical genre seems to be falling into these days; too often women are taking their clothes off and are treat like dirt because they’re at the mercy of “history”. Pompeii is hardly a masterpiece of its genre; it won’t, as the tagline accompanying all the posters suggests, ‘blow your mind’. However at a time when your average Blockbuster is over 2 hours long and full of portentous expectation, it is almost comforting to sit down to a good ol’ no-brainer popcorn flick. Surprisingly enjoyable, if completely unoriginal.