'Pompeii' review: Eccentric throwback offers up plenty of action

Rating

3 Stars3/5

Bruce Kirkland, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:31 PM ET

When the action movie Pompeii blows its top, it is impossible to take it seriously. While the real-life historical event must have been a devastating tragedy in 79 A.D., this version of the cataclysmic event is a shameless romantic melodrama.

But it is a lot of “action fun” for audiences. That is, if death, destruction and gladiatorial bloodshed can be considered fun things to witness in a B-movie. I just think they are in this case, because Pompeii is such an eccentric throwback to cheesy 1960s movies. Everyone speaks English and says nothing of note.

Yet, despite the often brutish violence, we do love the heroic Celtic gladiator, Milo (played by fuzzy-faced Kit Harington, otherwise known as the stoic Jon Snow in Game of Thrones). We greatly admire his African gladiator pal (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). And we are intrigued by the Roman-era heroine (Emily Browning). Her noble parents (Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss) are pro-Pompeii and anti-Roman, while the villain of the piece is a ruthless Roman military commander, Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), who wiped out the Celts.

This man delights in murdering women and children. Of all the actors, Sutherland seems to be the most self-aware of what kind of movie he is in. He plays his character with scenery-chewing, fire-breathing, teeth-gritting excess. Nothing subtle here: Sutherland is all brass, bully and B.S. — so his Corvus is easy to hate. Partly for lust, partly for politics, Corvus wants to wed Browning’s Cassia. She wants Milo as her lover. He wants to survive the gladiatorial ring. Everybody is freaked out when the volcano explodes.

Pompeii is a co-production of the U.S., Canada and Germany. It is directed Paul W.S. Anderson, a British hack who is known for Mortal Kombat, AVP: Alien vs. Predator, Death Race and a series of Resident Evil movies. Pompeii proceeds in a routine manner with no original impulses, stylistic touches or imaginative twists.

The movie’s budgetary limitations are also obvious in the special effects, which look decent but never really spectacular. In this case, the 3D gimmick is utterly pointless, except for depicting the cloud of volcanic ash that rains down on the city from the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, which did destroy the ancient city of Pompeii. The circus scenes also fall short of Maximus. Compared to the combat sequences in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, the ones here are definitely provincial.

That said, the movie Pompeii does show the madness and panic that must have gripped the city when it faced its ancient end. Simultaneously, there are absurd scenes of key players narrowly escaping death dozens of times. Just like in most modern Hollywood movies where stars can outrun anything nature throws their way, Harington, Browning, Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Sutherland all manage to evade swords, spears, fireballs, chasms, tidal waves and suffocating heat. That is, until their fates are sealed by the gods of the volcano.

Twitter: @Bruce_Kirkland

bruce.kirkland@sunmedia.ca

 


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