Cinematic Thoughts for Cinematic Minds
2014/ Germany, Canada
Director: Paul W.S Anderson
Starring: Kit Harrington, Emily Browning, Adiwale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Kiefer Sutherland, Carrie Anne Moss
Narrowly surviving a Roman pillage that wiped out his entire clan as a child, Milo (Harrington) was raised as an imprisoned slave, building a strong reputation as a feared gladiator. Drawn up against his rival and cell-mate Atticus (Akinnuoye-Agbaje) to fight for freedom before the senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) and the beautiful Cassia (Browning). However, in the background, Vesuvius rumbles and is on the verge of destroying Milo and the city of Pompeii.
There’s a key to enjoying Pompeii as a cinematic experience and it’s not found through viewing the film through the usual perspective. Pompeii is not a serious thought-provoking drama; it does after all come from Paul W.S. Anderson, whose most notable work is within the realms of video game to film adaptations; infamously a no-man’s-land from which no film has escaped without at least a significant amount of backlash but in its own ridiculous way, Pompeii is enjoyable if taken with a tongue firmly embedded in your cheek.
The plot that sets up Pompeii (pun not intended) is a pretty conventional slave fighting for freedom story and is pulled in the conventional manner. Kit Harrington plays Milo and it’s not a role of dramatic depth, more a role that seems more suited to showing off Harrington’s physique than anything else. Acting is secondary and that becomes clear when you notice that despite a cast of known stars, the performances are often lacking. A great deal has been made of Kiefer Sutherland’s hammy performance as Corvus and whilst it does have its share of teeth-grinding and metaphorical villainous moustache twirling it isn’t perhaps as extreme as made out, even Donald Sutherland (Kiefer’s father, to whom a resemblance is definitely starting to show) has made, larger performances. Still, Sutherland is entertaining and perhaps more than anyone else in the cast.
Then, the volcano erupts.
Strictly speaking, this is why people want to see this movie. King Kong (1933) might have been a love story of sorts, but we remember the big ape atop the Empire State Building most of all. Needless to say, this is no King Kong but there are few things more thrillingly daft than the film’s climax and conclusion. Science and logic break down as axes purposely hit necks with inexplicable precision in the fight scene that coincides with the eruption a large boat aided by a tidal wave propels seamlessly down a narrow street. This is ridiculousness personified and with that wave, the bland tedium of before is largely washed away. Of course the 3D “addition” is pointless, as it usually is but this is a spectacle. An idiotic spectacle, but a spectacle all the same tacked onto a rather dull story. In the end, it doesn’t survive unscathed but it does survive…barely.