Pompeii is remembered for the quietly resting victims of volcanic tragedy, captured forever in their final moments by falling ash.
Now this loud and exaggerated blockbuster from the director of Event Horizon re-injects Pompeii’s silent resting place with chaos, panic and fear in the wake of the mountain’s unpredictable eruption.
Deep, earthly grumbles, stones raining down from the sky, a devastating wall of molten ash and a tsunami. Pompeii has the makings of a horrifying and emotional disaster movie. Not least because this actually happened.
Pompeii takes its inspiration from the volcano’s victims caught in final embraces of love.
It’s not a bad idea.
Visitors to Pompeii frequently remark on these poignant reminders of humanity’s tenderness.
So in this landscape of honest and credible stories, it’s baffling why Pompeii chooses to rehash a cliche romance about a privileged girl (Emily Browning) who falls in love with a heroic slave (Kit Harington).
This ill-fated romance is thwarted by an evil politician (Kiefer Sutherland), who intends to make the girl his wife and doggedly pursues them in their attempt to escape the disaster. Sound familiar? Titanic’s star-crossed lovers trod a similar path with a scorned suitor at their heels.
But that’s not the only Oscar winning flick Pompeii borrows from.
The first half of Paul W.S. Anderson’s disaster movie plays out like Gladiator’s poor cousin. Grieving his family, Milo (Harington) is sold as a gladiator and the first half of Pompeii becomes a weak excuse for Roman gore and spectacle. Predictable writing plagues Pompeii throughout and cheesy dialogue, delivered in a seething but awkward British accent by Sutherland, adds to the ridiculous quality of the plot.
It’s unlikely anyone is watching Pompeii for this throwaway love story - something Anderson seems to recognise.
From the outset he teases his audience with glimpses into the belly of the bubbling volcano, quaking earth and crumbling ceilings. We know what’s coming and by the time it arrives the volcano’s eruption needs to be nothing short of epic if it’s to rescue this dull piece of cinema.
Here Anderson takes his cues from the history books but escalates them to foolish proportions.
Gaping chasms that swallow huge portions of the city, along with corny falling victims, highlight the weak CGI and dark, blurry 3D.
Later, a tsunami ploughs ships deep into the city but lacks the visceral quality of The Impossible, instead providing another bland action set piece complete with the cliche rescue of a child who’s about to be trampled by Pompeii’s fleeing masses.
Kit Harington is tolerable as our strong but sensitive horse-whispering hero but it’s difficult to make any emotional investment in these drab, commonplace stereotypes.
It’s a costly flaw, making the relentless sword battles between Milo and politician Corvus a distraction from the volcano’s wrath rather than a dramatic highlight. The feuding machismos are so consumed with their differences they, rather implausibly, place their fight above escape.
While Anderson makes a token effort to capture the poignant mood of Pompeii’s tragedy in lingering shots of the body casts we see today, this is overwhelmed by sensational, blood-thirsty drama and excessive visual peril. Pompeii’s corny love story leaves Anderson with nowhere to go but attempt to quench the genre’s lust for epic destruction. In light of the feelings Pompeii’s tragedy still awakens in its visitors today, this can only be a wasted opportunity.
Running Time: 104 minutes