Pompeii is cinematic junk food, the moviegoing equivalent of convenience-store tacos or baseball-park nachos. There’s little nutrition but, depending on your mood, it hits the spot. And that’s the best that probably can be expected from this cross between Gladiator and Volcano.
In fact, anyone even casually familiar with Gladiator or Spartacus will know how Pompeii begins. Milo, aka The Celt (Kit Harington, Game of Thrones), is a feisty Briton who was been dragged to Pompeii by the Romans to be a gladiator after his entire tribe has been slaughtered. He earns the wrath of his minders because of his bad attitude and desire for revenge. One of his fellow gladiators, champion Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Oz), can’t wait to turn him into arena road kill.
Meanwhile, Cassia (Emily Browning), the fairest maiden in all of the city, has taken a fancy to Milo. Maybe it’s because Cassia, a lover of horses, has seen that he is as gentle with horses as he is brutal with men. Or maybe it’s just because she has seen his abs.
Her father, Severus (Jared Harris, Mad Men), is desperate to attract more investment in town and is trying to impress visiting Roman senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), the man who oversaw the destruction of Milo’s village, to put in a good word with the emperor. But, faster than you can say “toga party,” cruel Corvus is more interested in getting to know Cassia better, much to the horror of her mom, Aurelia (Carrie-Anne Moss, The Matrix).
All of this bad blood is threatening to come to a soapy, sword-and-scandal boil on the day of the big gladiatorial showdown. But then Mount Vesuvius, rumbling angrily throughout, has a better idea: let’s just destroy this town under a noxious rain of ash and flame. That’ll be a better show.
Director Paul W.S. Anderson (the “Resident Evil” movies), working from a script that somehow took five people to concoct, doesn’t take too much of this seriously. He knows anyone coming to this movie wants to see two things: fights and mass destruction — with just a little bit of a love story thrown in. He delivers on all counts, even if the 3-D, as usual, seems superfluous.
What’s more amazing than any of the special effects or 3-D is how Milo and Cassia — despite going toe-to-toe against centurions and a volcano — are just as pretty near the end of the film as they were at the start, save for a few smudges on their cheeks. (And the movie is not even too bloody. as it’s only PG-13).
But then Pompeii has as much to do with realism and history as the average gas station has with gourmet cuisine and fine dining. If you’re hankering for something substantive, you’ll leave hungry.
Cary Darling, 817 390-7571