By Richard Haridy
July 23, 2014
Pompeii is what some critics will label a “guilty pleasure.” It’s trash. Unadulterated, cliché-ridden junk that is also simply damn fun to watch. I tend to rail against the term “guilty pleasure” as one should never feel guilty about enjoying something. Pompeii is a grand B-grade mash up of a movie bringing together Gladiator and Titanic under the ash-cloud of a giant disaster film.
A gloriously hammy prologue sets up the entire feature: The evil Roman Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) wipes out an entire Celtic village leaving only one survivor, a young boy named Milo. Captured by slave traders, Milo spends the next 17 years of his life becoming a talented gladiator – and looking like Game of Thrones‘ Kit Harington – yet still harbouring dreams of vengeance. You guessed it, Milo ends up in Pompeii just as the villainous Corvus arrives, while also falling in love with Cassia (Emily Browning), daughter of the current ruler of Pompeii, Severus (Jared Harris).
This is all necessarily convoluted but incredibly one-dimensional. B-grade auteur Paul W.S. Anderson, best known for his numerous Resident Evil movies, orchestrates with a swift sense of purpose. For the first hour we simply get a satisfying replay of Gladiator and Titanic with the occasional cutaway to an ominously growling volcano. The final act then moves into full disaster overdrive, giving us the inevitable volcanic eruption spewing chaotic fireballs down onto the town as major carnage ensues.
Harrington has an amusing cardboard blandness; his flat, matinee idol delivery really works for this type of sword and sandal cheese. Sutherland, Browning, Harris and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, meanwhile, all pitch themselves perfectly to the low-brow tone of the material.
Anderson knows exactly what he is doing with Pompeii and he executes this type of gleefully trashy entertainment with a sense of pace and style that is unexpectedly refreshing. This is not great art but it is great entertainment (if approached with the right sense of fun). Sure, every character beat is hammy and predictable, but hey, not everything can be fine dining. Sometimes you just want a good cheeseburger and fries.
Pompeii is now available on Quickflix.