Reviews for the Easily Distracted:
Can We Expect a Historically Accurate Representation of Events? But of course. Take special note of how all Romans have English accents.
Rating Using Random Objects Relevant to the Film: Two Waponi Chiefs out of five.
Brief Plot Synopsis: Boy becomes slave; slave meets girl; volcano erupts, which kind of renders their childish romance irrelevant.
Tagline: "No warning. No escape."
Better Tagline: "Lava means never having to say you're sorry."
Brief Plot Synopsis: Think your childhood was rough? Not compared to young Milo's, who gets to watch his parents butchered by the Romans as they quell a Celtic uprising in Britannia. Adding insult to tragedy, the boy is enslaved, growing up to become a gladiator known as "The Celt" (Kit Harington). His skills win him a ticket out of Londinium to Pompeii, where he catches the eye of Cassia (Emily Browning), daughter of Severus (Jared Harris), the wealthiest merchant in town. Cassia is also betrothed to Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), the biggest asshole in Rome. Oh, and that rumbling? Just nearby Mount Vesuvius. Nothing to worry about.
"Critical" Analysis: As is the case anytime I see a movie I suspect is going to earn poor reviews (call it a hunch here), I'm always tempted to throw out some obnoxious quotes to see if the studio will grab one up in their desperation to obtain some positive publicity. So excuse me while I whip a few of these out:
"Splendor in the Ash!" "About (Pyroc)last Night!" "When Hydrogen Sulfide met Sulfur Dioxide!"
Now that we've got that out of the way (I balked at "Pumices in the Dark"), Pompeii isn't very good. That said, it could've been a lot worse.
Yes, the romantic plot is dumb, as are most, yet we still buy tickets to Nicholas Sparks movies (and read Nicholas Sparks books). Calling into question the likelihood of a young Roman noblewoman falling for a raggedy-ass slave at the height of Empire is to cast doubt upon the very foundations of the genre.
Harington doesn't help. Cheese-grater abs aside, his emoting rarely stretches beyond pained expressions or smirks. He horse whispers his way into Cassia's heart by calming her steed when it becomes agitated by increasingly frequent earthquakes, which is apparently enough to make her look past his wooden demeanor.
"Calming her steed" isn't a euphemism for anything, by the way.
Come to think of it, this is the chastest romance you're likely to find this side of a Sweet Valley High book. Aside from one ill-advised horse ride and one kiss, Milo and Otis, er, Cassia never get their Imperial groove on.
And the fight scenes? Pretty enjoyable, admittedly. Director Paul W.S. Anderson, known primarily for the (usually) rightfully vilified Resident Evil series, proves himself rather capable with the sword-and-sandal genre. That isn't to say the fights aren't ridiculous (I liked where Milo and two other dudes pushed back a 20-man phalanx), but they hold your attention and don't drag on as they do in the movie it appears Anderson was most "inspired" by (Gladiator).
Still, we're definitely ready for some hot Plinian action by the time Vesuvius finally blows its stack in the third act. Here again, in the area of disaster porn, Anderson demonstrates some aptitude. The volcanic effects are hilariously excessive (even more so when you see how uncannily accurate those pyroclasts are) and rarely has watching 16,000 people die from heat blast/tsunami/lava been this satisfying.
Oh shut up, you know that's the only reason you're going to see this, too.
But cheesy romance and volcanic incineration only count for so much. Add Sutherland -- lacking only a mustache to twirl, Cassia taking an anachronistic women's self-determination page from the Disney princess playbook, and the pair's black allies (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jessica Lucas) dying noble, predictable deaths, and it's hard to recommend Pompeii for anything other than late-night, post-six-pack viewing.
Pompeii is in theaters today. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to see my doctor about this "brain cloud" diagnosis.
Get the Theater and Arts Newsletter
Exclusive discounts and announcements to Houston theater shows and art events