Since we all know how the story of Pompeii ends – the Italian/Roman city smothered by the massive volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius – it came as a curious decision when it was unceremoniously announced that it’d be adapted into a film. But disaster movies have worked well in the past (a la Titanic), so there was always potential in this sub-genre.
Milo (Kit Harington) is an orphaned slave turned Gladiator who, in his quest to avenge his family and village, finds himself in a race against time, and nature, to save his true love Cassia (Emily Browning) who has been betrothed to a corrupt Roman Senator (Kiefer Sutherland). As the Volcano erupts Milo must fight his way out of the arena and through the crumbling city.
For those who like disaster movies, or Roman-esque era films. But really this movie is targeted toward Kit Harington fans.
The Bottom Line
With a largely A-list cast, this film from a certain perspective actually succeeds in a sort of half-hearted way, nevertheless, Pompeii strangely feels like a missed opportunity. It’s up to the individual as to how you choose to view it. Some might be disappointed, but then it may also surprise a few others, it all depends on your expectations.
Kit Harrington makes for a much more sympathetic and charismatic hero than, say, Sam Worthington (at least in his Titan movies), and the ensemble cast (including the likes of Jared Harris, Carrie-Ann Moss and Keifer Sutherland) elevate the otherwise flat material they’re given to at least make you care.
With somewhat better writing this film could well have portrayed something quite poignant as the stories of our lives tend to diminish under the shadow of an act of nature. Its reflected in many disaster movies, helping to put our lives in perspective, but Pompeii’s central story feels more than slightly undercooked and very predictable.
The problems aren’t just in the writing though (which does include a few clichés); what’s evident is that the limited budget was spent on the volcanic effects whilst the divide between what’s real and what’s not is often quite plain to see (ie. the initial entrance into the gladiatorial arena).
Since not much is known about the people and their tales within the doomed city, the writers took the liberties afforded to them, perhaps compiling a story coloured in with events and historical recordings from Rome – but by and large one can create many stories with this sort of blank canvass. This film could’ve been a lot more, but the filmmakers decided to lean on the simple tried and tested, and although it results in a sufficient pseudo-blockbuster, it could really have benefited from some subtlety to lend it more resonance.
In the end it gets confused between taking the historical material seriously and focusing on a clichéd central story which is unashamedly targeted at a younger audience with its two young leads.
Despite all this, Pompeii remains quite bearable for the undiscerning viewer.