Review: Pompeii

Last Updated on August 5, 2021

PLOT: Milo (Kit Harington) – a young Celtic gladiator enslaved in the doomed city of Pompeii – falls in love with the daughter (Emily Browning) of a wealthy merchant, who happens to be betrothed to bloodthirsty Roman Senator Colvis (Kiefer Sutherland), the very man who murdered his parents years earlier. Will Milo be able to save his lady love from the clutches of Colvis and have his revenge? And what’s with all the weird rumblings coming from Mount Vesuvius?

REVIEW: Take GLADIATOR, mix it in with a heavy dose of TITANIC, add a dash of SPARTACUS and GAME OF THRONES, and what do you get? The answer is something pretty close to Paul W.S Anderson’s POMPEII, a film that so liberally steals from other bigger and better movies (and TV shows) that it becomes a kind of pastiche. Still, despite its watered-down GLADIATOR-esque fights and cheesy plot, POMPEII can’t help but be a reasonably entertaining 100 minutes, and one of director Anderson’s better films.

Anderson’s always been a tough guy to peg. He’s made a lot of bad movies (his recent THREE MUSKETEERS arguably being the worst) but I’d hesitate to call him an out-and-out bad director. MORTAL KOMBAT is ultra-cheesy, retro nineties fun, while EVENT HORIZON is derivative, but very stylish and entertaining. Technically, he has skill, and it’s not fair to slot him with a hack like Uwe Boll, as given the right script and resources he could probably make a very decent film (something I don’t think Boll is capable of). POMPEII’s certainly not a very good movie, but it’s not bad and probably the closest Anderson’s come to doing a good film since DEATH RACE.

Certainly, it’s a far cry from being perfect, or even really good. For one thing, it offers nothing you haven’t seen before. The first two-thirds feels like a watered-down GLADIATOR rip-off, right down to the Hans Zimmer-clone score (complete with some Lisa Gerrard style wailings). The early scenes showing Milo’s family being wiped-out is lifted almost verbatim from CONAN THE BARBARIAN (only with Kiefer Sutherland’s Romans versus James Earl Jones’ snake cult). Still, even here the film is reasonably diverting.

GAME OF THONES’ Kit Haringtom certainly makes for a fit gladiator (sporting six-pack abs that are so well-defined they almost look CGI-enhanced), and while he doesn’t do much here that’s too different from what he does as Jon Snow on GAME OF THRONES, it can’t be denied he’s a good fit for the genre. Emily Browning is more-or-less window dressing as the doe-eyed girl with a crush on our muscled hero, but the two make for an attractive pair even if their romance has very little depth. Not-so-coincidently, it feels like a retread of the Tom Branson-Lady Sybil storyline from DOWNTON ABBEY, which is fitting with Julian Fellowes having apparently had a hand in the screenplay.

LOST’s Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje arguably has the movie’s best part as an aging gladiator on the cusp of winning his freedom who’s paired with Milo in the ring. Anyone who remembers Woody Strode’s conflicted gladiator from Stanley Kubrick’s SPARTACUS will find this part familiar, but Akinnuoye-Agbaje is charismatic and gets the movie’s best mano-a-mano fight in the climax. Meanwhile, Kiefer Sutherland camps it up like never before as the Roman baddie. His performance is highly stylized, with him playing it with a constant sneer that’s not unlike the swashbuckling villains Basil Rathbone played in the thirties and forties. Normally, this kind of scenery chewing would be off-putting, but it fits the film and he’s fun to watch.

Being so prominently billed as POMPEII 3D, arguably the main goal of the movie is to provide audiences with some eye candy. Everything before the eruption is fairly stale visually, with the 3D being rather flat. The only time it really pays off is during the half-hour long fall of Pompeii, and the CGI effects are good (it feels like most of the budget was saved for the climax), even if this never feels like more than a B-level spectacle. Still, for what it is it’s not bad.

The trailers for POMPEII promised audiences nothing more than a silly but fun Roman sword n’ sandal romp, and that’s exactly what director Anderson has delivered. It’s not a great film, but it makes for a decent hour and forty minutes of entertainment. It’s a huge improvement over THREE MUSKETEERS 3D (thankfully modern slang is mostly absent here) and will probably satisfy genre fans who just want eye candy. Keep your expectations in check and you should have a good time.




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About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.