Looking for an epic romance story that is somewhere between Titanic and the TV series Rome, via Gladiator? If so, youíre in for a real treat with Pompeii. It was well paced, with solid acting, and some awesome special effects, with the volcanic eruption being stunning (spoiler alert: there’s a volcanic eruption). That being said, it did have several problems. First of all, the story was one that has been done before, so it was predictable – as were the characters at times. There were a lot of action scenes too, which at times stretched believability and became a little tiresome at times. That being said, it was an interesting approach to Ancient Rome and Ancient Pompeii – I’m all for more films about the Romans, so we should be looking at creating more movies about this interesting time period. Although not the greatest piece of its genre, it was enjoyable.
The story, thankfully, doesn’t rely on some ‘mystical soothsayer’ who can see the future coming. Instead, it does falls another series of clichés: the gladiator Milo (Kit Harrington) who comes from a tragic background (so much silent man angst), who lives under a very brutal, oppressive Roman Empire as a gladiator. Despite being a Celt, he is taken to Pompeii to fight for the entertainment of the decadent Pompeii and Roman aristocrats. After a chance meeting on the road to Pompeii, the aristocratic Cassia (Emily Browning) meets Milo, who catches her eye.
Meanwhile, her father Severus (Jarred Harris) attempts to secure imperial investment from Senator Corvus, who wants to take Cassia as his wife. By a strange twist of fate, Corvus also is the one who wiped out Milo’s entire people at the beginning of the movie, which conveniently leads to massive amounts of (understandable) angst on Milo’s part. All this takes place in the shadow of the mountain, and constant earthquakes throughout the story indicate to the audience what is coming (hint, itís a volcanic eruption). The ending, which I was worried about, was satisfying (no spoilers!) and all works well. I was a little disappointed that Pliny the Younger didn’t make an appearance, but you can’t have everything.
Something else missing from the film was humour. While a volcanic eruption obliterating a city isn’t exactly a puppet show, a little humour never hurts. Some friendly banter from gladiatorial champion Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) would have been enjoyable, or between Cassia and her family/retinue perhaps. It was obvious that the film went in for a gritty realism, which can be a bit of a drag.
On the topic of realism, the sets and costumes were nothing short of phenomenal. Although there were some questionably historically accurate representations (Roman women would have worn much less revealing clothing in public!), and some of the rather dramatic elements of the volcanic eruption (fireballs probably didn’t work like that), a lot of the backdrop of the story is based a lot on what historians and archaeologists agree Pompeii probably looked like – although I suspect a few more darker skinned people here and there in the middle and upper echelons of society are called for. At least they had several people of colour: Atticus is a gladiator who bonds with Milo over a mutual hatred of the Romans.
One thing that the movie did not fail to deliver on was the volcanic eruption, which was quite a spectacle. Although the earthquake and eruption coincided (historically there were several months between the events), and the existence of a tsunami seems a tad strange, it was given the OK by scientists and historians, especially considering the eruption was based on the descriptions given by Pliny the Younger. Visually, there wasn’t anything uncool about it: explosions, the ash falling from the air, pumice, general death and destruction. All the things one would expect in a movie about a volcano, really.
In conclusion, while the story is quite dry, the film is alright. The action scenes are fun and enjoyable, although at times unbelievable. Then again, most action movies are on some level. The historical accuracy was certainly noteworthy, although some artistic licence was naturally taken. It’s the sort of movie you watch with friends if you don’t want an overly trying time. The best part of this film was the scenery and costumes, and the actors bravely trying to make the most of a not-so-inspiring story, and the excellent special effects.