Pompeii (2014) – Review

And here it is, ladies and gentlemen, a considered and factually accurate reconstruction of the events surrounding the fateful eruption of a bloody big hill in Italy. Wait, hang on a minute…who is directing this again? Paul Anderson, you say? Hmm, on second thoughts, can I have my money back?…

Yes indeed, the man responsible for such cinematic masterpieces as Alien Vs Predator and all of the Resident Evil movies (the games had more atmosphere) is here to completely fuck with history for the sake of entertainment. Event Horizon is not a get out of jail free card forever, y’know. Forgive me, but when I heard they were making a film about Pompeii, I actually thought, maybe naively, that this would actually be about the town prior to the arrival of a massive tidal wave of hot, spewing, creeping magma, based on at least some form of credible research. I should have known better.

If I had wanted to watch Gladiator, I would have done. If I’d wanted to watch Titanic, I would have done. What I definitely didn’t need to waste my precious time on was a substandard remake of these movies melded together and sneakily slipped into a green screen epic with a teeth-gratingly narrow script and dubious story. For examples of colossal budgets literally thrown at a subject just because you could, with absolutely no thought for what pustulent dross will be spewed out at the arse-end of production, this is the years’ stand-out runaway leader so far. This cost one hundred million dollars to make! There are people starving in the world.

Why did they make Emily Browning look like the love child of Grover from Sesame Street and Howard The Duck? Why did they cast Kit Harington as the lead? This man failed to keep my attention or convince me of his acting prowess in Game of Thrones (which I still feel people will look at in no more than fifty years and wonder “just what were they thinking?”). Is it simply because of the success of that show that he got this job? Look at Russell Crowe in Gladiator. Go on, look at him! See that gravitas? See that confidence? Now that is what you call an angry slave with the ability to lead, to command, to demand respect, to conquer and to become the hero fated by destiny. Even as you watch Harington here, toned and photoshopped to within an inch of his life, you cannot help but admit, in the immortal words of Monty Python, “you have a woman’s hair.” Way out of his depth, Harington simply does not have the screen presence to hold all this together. It would be a hard enough job for Maximus, but this yappy little pup with enough psychological baggage to make Sigmund Freud glance nervously towards a quick exit? Not a chance.

Pompeii’s saving grace is that it is not as long as it might have been. Gods help us if this had reached anywhere near Gladiator’s running time. As it is, it plays out like a very long, very expensive, very good-looking television episode. The computer generated imagery of the volcano was very impressive indeed and I would rather have watched that for the best part of two hours. It may have big dreams, huge sets and lofty storytelling ambitions but it arrives anticipating glory and adulation, but leaves with ignominy and shame.

Cliched writing make the script a complete farce, the acting is wooden by the majority of the cast, save for Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, due no doubt to the superbowl half-time, ad-break mentality of its director who should never be let out of the Umbrella Corporation’s subterranean laboratory ever again, forced to make sequels for that franchise until he drops dead, before regenerating like one of his zombies, and making exactly the same films he had been making before. Soulless as they are, it would not be a problem and we probably wouldn’t notice the difference.

In short, I hated it. Practically every minute of it annoyed me. It represents the very worst of Hollywood; huge budgets, glossy, cow-eyed film-making for profit and little consideration for the actual art of story-telling. It looked great, but not great enough to save it from the punch in the face that it really, truly deserves. An unfortunate sideways step for some and a step back for a couple. If this goes to prove nothing else, it should cement Anderson’s credibility as blockbuster director to exactly where it should be. And it isn’t here.

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