Stop kissing and run! (Pompeii movie review)

PompeiiPaul W.S. Anderson latest cinematic endeavour combines a period-piece romance story, gladiator action and a disaster movie. The end result is probably Anderson’s most fresh title since The Three Musketeers and probably his most hard-hitting film since Event Horizon.

The film follows the antics of Milo – a vengeful, final survivor of a Celtic tribe, who rises the ranks of gladiators, winds up on the island of Pompeii, falls in love with a local fat cat’s daughter, becomes ring-side bros with a big n tough black guy named Atticus and then has a shot at having his vengeance on Keifer Sutherland who butchered his folks at the beginning of the film. The impressive thing about Pompeii is the scale of the story, considering that running time wise, this one lands comfortably into that 100 minute zone that Anderson’s films are known for.

Milo’s story definitely has some very familiar vengeance themes added to it. Kit Harington may not be the most memorable lead out there, but he does a good job as a dashing, talented fighter. However, it’s his relationship with the pretty Cassia and the bad-ass Atticus that define his character, though he has moments of inspiration, such as when he and Atticus fight back from a slaughter set up as an re-enactment. Probably the film’s only weak point is that Milo and Cassia’s romance sub-plot doesn’t quite take off immediately, but it eventually does gain some traction by the movie’s end. Maybe these two needed at least one, proper romantic scene at the start.

Then there’s the politics and goings on behind the scenes of the gladiator ring. These sub-plot elements are surprisingly well fleshed out and also help the leading lady, Emily Browning, to stand out and not just look like a pretty face. I was particularly happy to see Jared Harris again as Cassius’s father and a character with some moral struggles of his own (fans of Resident Evil: Apocalypse will recognise him as the wheelchair-bound Dr. Ashford from said film). I also really liked the fat cat (emphasis on “fat” this time) gladiator ring-leader who is the only one to head to the boats before the volcano starts throwing a hissy fit.

Keifer Sutherland kinda hams it up as the slimy, pompous and greedy Senator Corvus. However, at the same time, it’s nice to see a strong villainous presence in the film and one thing I’ve never had to complain about in Anderson’s movies has been that the bad guys would have been unmemorable. Sutherland can add his name to the long list of awesome bad-guy actors in Anderson’s movies, a list which already includes such illustrious names as Jason Isaacs, Joan Allen, Christoph Waltz and, of course, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa from Mortal Kombat.

What really impressed me was Anderson’s daring to make a movie where all the characters are essentially doomed. The impact of this really hits home in the final act where we see the destruction of Pompeii in all its glory. It’s powerful stuff and Anderson savours every detail. It really gives the movie one of the most memorable finales since the first Resident Evil and one with as much power as that from Shopping.

This one comes highly recommended.

Rating: 4 out of 5

  • +1 Kiefer Sutherland’s hammy but brilliant performance
  • +1 Atticus was a BAMF!
  • +½ Great Gladiator Action
  • +½ All the disaster footage
  • +½ Clinton Shorter’s excellent score
  • +½ The romantic scenes in the latter half of the film
  • -½ The romantic scenes in the first half of the film
  • -½ The random Thracian trying to avenge his brother didn’t really stand out that much