Pompeii stars Kit Harington, Kiefer Sutherland, Carrie-Anne Moss, Emily Browning, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje. And is directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, director of the Death Race movies, many of the Resident Evil movies, Alien Vs. Predator and Mortal Kombat. And this is the “retelling” of the story of Pompeii, the one with the mountain erupting, basically freezing the entire city by covering it in ash, but that’s not exactly what happens in this version of the story.
Pompeii doesn’t open in the city of Pompeii. We are first introduced to our main character in a city outside of Pompeii. Why we couldn’t have started in Pompeii, I have no idea. In this opening we get to see how our main character arrives in the city that the movie is named after. It takes about five minutes to get to, what I call, the real opening of this movie, which still isn’t in Pompeii, but rather, on the road to the city. Our main character (I honestly forgot his name) has to kill a horse that doubled over when the princess’s carriage gets caught in the mud. This is when the love interest is introduced (it’s the princess…just if you really wanted to know) and then we move on from there. This plot point comes up one other time in the movie, and it’s used for basically no reason at all but to make the movie longer in an attempt to build character.
I’m going to address one of the many elephants in the room here, the characters. I’m a big character guy, I like good characters, something this movie doesn’t have. It tries to develop some of them, but it either comes too late, at the wrong time, or not at all. There are moments in this movie where it dramatically changes tone just to make an attempt at building character. Unfortunately, our main star doesn’t hardly say anything for the first 30 minutes of the film. The only thing we have to go off of is what we see in the opening. His partner, who you may know as Wombosi from The Bourne Identity (played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) has more to him than main character. Even the villain and princess have more to them than our main character.
Main character dude really reminds me of Ed Skrein’s performance in Transporter: Refueled. A dude who is quiet, monotone, and is supposedly is super awesome. It makes me wonder if Transporter: Refueled took inspiration from Pompeii. But this is NOT how you make a compelling character. I get that we are trying to make a dude who is super cool like Jason Bourne. But Jason Bourne actually had a little something called character to him. Just because a character is mysterious, quiet, and monotone doesn’t make him a good character. You need good writing (or really, just writing in general), good acting and good execution to show off your characters. With Pompeii, we don’t really know what all our main character is good at. But apparently main character dude is an amazing fighter (something that is NEVER explained how he got the ability). Because of this, I don’t know what he is capable of, I don’t know what he could do to someone, or how he would handle the situation he is in. And if I can’t relate to the main character, of all people, then where is my reason to care?
The cinematography for this movie is fine…there’s nothing special about it. But when it comes to the action scenes, the editing goes full-on PG-13 mode. Every impact there is a cut, and we are close up to the characters in the action. And being PG-13, we hardly ever see the hits connect to the body, it either cuts before the impact, or it is outside of the frame. It makes the action feel stilted and boring. This leads me into one of my biggest problems. I love action movies that shows us the action, not one that is so close to the characters that I have to guess what is going on. Some of my favorite action is that which uses a wide shot to show off the talent and choreography of the actors doing the scene. This movie also sure has abrupt ways of transitioning between scenes. Instead of bleeding from one scene to the next because there is a relationship between the adjacent scenes, we just cut and show a scene and then go on to the next one. This makes the film feel like a movie. Scenes don’t mesh together at all; it just cuts to what the script feels what needs to be shown next.
I can see what this movie is trying to be, a realization I came to about halfway through the film. Pompeii is the awkward step child of Titanic and Gladiator. It takes the historical aspect from Titanic and the setting and “drive” of our main character from Gladiator. The problem is, it’s also not trying to be an epic, like Titanic or (to an extent) Gladiator. It is concerned with what’s exciting to show the audience. Because of this, we are given shallow characters, shallow story, and then an end ending we are apparently supposed to care about. If I don’t have anything to relate to or any development to understand our characters, then where is my reason to care? When the final events of this film take place and the volcano erupts (what did you think that was a spoiler?) I feel like I’m supposed to care. But I never feel for our characters, which is a problem. The ending of this film also tries to pull in each character’s internal struggle while the volcano is erupting and everyone is going crazy. It pulls the focus of the film from survival of the characters to finishing their arcs, something that would have worked better if it were before the eruption. It doesn’t stay focused on survival, which would make this ending scene more enjoyable and more cohesive.
So, what is so good about Pompeii? It’s a stretch, I have to say. The acting is wooden, and the character development is almost non-existent. The romance between our main characters is forced. The action feels lazy, the pacing and scene transitions are both disgusting. But, this movie sure doesn’t every take too much time to slow down, which does make it fun in that sense. And the visuals of this movie look pretty dang good, for the most part. Especially Mount Vesuvius, and its eruption. But, when there is the use of a green screen, you can tell. The background may look good, but when combined with the characters, it just reels off. The visuals has its ups and downs. But for the most part they at least look decent…maybe that’s where all the money for this movie went to. Normal movie-going audiences probably will find this movie to be a fun time, but won’t be anything worth remembering.
But, one question this film has me asking is its reason for existing. The historical aspect of this film is so wrong on so many levels. I don’t have a care in the world for the characters when the eruption occurs. Even the destruction of the city makes me wonder if it would occur the way that’s shown to us. And when the film intertwines this in an attempt to complete character arcs make it feel so messy and unfocused. The destruction of Pompeii doesn’t make up for the rest of the film, it becomes overbearing and unfocused in the climax for me to really really fun, despite my issues with it. This movie doesn’t even try to bring anything new to the table. Rolland Emmerich has made films just as good, if not better than this. Those movies have more destruction and are a lot more fun, which still isn’t saying much. This is just a movie made for money’s sake, and nothing else. Once this movie reached the horse scene at the beginning, I realized what was going on. And I tried so hard to get into this film. And every time I suspended my disbelief to at least make an attempt to get engaged in this film, it does something so unbelievable that I was pulled right back out. It tries so hard to keep itself entertaining that it pulls crazy stunts in an attempt to keep the attention of the audience. This is not filmmaking, but a mere ploy for entertainment and acceptance. I can so easily give this movie 3/10, but I don’t feel it completely deserves it . I’m giving this one a 4/10, a solid not recommend for me.