Is director Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil: Retribution) trying to do a Michael Bay and what he did with Pearl Harbor? Or, does Anderson’s Pompeii land on the love-in-the-wake-of-disaster side with James Cameron’s Titanic?
Like those two other disaster movies, we all know what happened (Mount Vesuvius erupted) and the audience is keenly aware going into the theater that this puppy is not going to end well. In fact, seeing those people frozen in ash at the beginning of the movie truly sets our tone.
Game of Thrones star Kit Harrington is Milo. As a British citizen, we can see why Anderson would start Pompeii in Briton with Milo’s village being burned to the ground and people being massacred. The Roman reach was massive, and growing up around the ruins, Anderson pays tribute to that in the film’s opening moments.
Instead of being killed, Milo is taken into slavery and grows up to be a gladiator. Eventually he is so good, he winds up fighting in the giant coliseum of Pompeii. But, along the road to Pompeii and in chains, he meets Cassia (Emily Browning). She is the daughter of a lord of Pompeii (Jared Harris). He helps her carriage and the two connect via some serious eye flirtation. More on that later…
While this love affair story is fanned, Anderson keeps cutting to the volcano that does not seem all that happy. Steam is protruding from various parts of the mountain and it is clear, sooner than later, this sucker is going to blow. What we think speaks volumes about the story Anderson is telling through a screenwriting collective that includes Downton Abbey’s Julian Fellowes, is that we forget about the impending doom because we are rather wrapped up in the story of Milo.
Harrington makes a solid lead and we expect great things from him beyond Pompeii and his hit show. He tackles the action sequences with panache and power, whether the showmanship of a gladiator fighting or fighting for his life as he tries to escape with Cassia. And Harrington and Browning make a delightful pair. We pull for their romance to work out, even though we know -- for various and obvious reasons -- it will not.
Harris is always astounding and he is caught between a falling rock from a volcano and a hard place due to an emissary from Rome named Corvus, played with steely Jack Bauer-type resolve by Kiefer Sutherland. Corvus is our villain and when he makes a play for Cassia, all in the name of good relations with Rome, it causes all sorts of issues. Sutherland overacts, sure, but every disaster movie needs someone who is chewing the scenery.
See, Anderson isn’t trying to be Cameron with his love story on a sinking iconic ship. And he’s not even attempting to be taken seriously, like Bay and his tale of the love found on that Day of Infamy. Our Pompeii review finds that the filmmaker is just trying to make a good old-fashioned disaster movie… that just happens to have a love story driving its plot.
Why not check out Anderson's most recent work as you can watch Resident Evil: Retribution online!