This article is spoiler sensitive, so if you still want to see this movie (which I don’t recommend) even after seeing the score, navigate elsewhere!
Disaster movies are a dime a dozen these days, and when they show up it is easy to get excited, because who doesn’t like watching things get destroyed? When it comes to movies like this in recent years, you have your good ones, Day After Tomorrow. Then there are movies that were okay, such as 2012. You’ve got disaster movies that are so bad that they are good, Sharknado for instance, is the perfect example of a disaster B-movie with enough cheesy action, special effects, and a ridiculous premise that makes for a fun, gore filled disaster movie. Then you have your movies like Pompeii, which in terms of disaster movies, is about as bad as you can get.
I went into this movie wanting to like it. I wanted it to be good. I really did. I’m a sucker for movies where mother nature is the antagonist, and i usually enjoy the visuals that go along with it. The movie stars Kit Harrington from Game of Thrones! I really wanted this movie to succeed, if anything for his sake, because I love Game of Thrones. Unfortunately this movie fails in every way it possibly could, leaving a bad taste in my mouth for days. Just thinking about the movie makes me cringe, and here’s why.
The plot is pretty generic for a period piece set in the time of the roman empire. Kit Harrington plays Milo, a slave forced into being a gladiator in the roman empire. He comes from a Celtic horse village in Britannia, where he sees his people slaughtered by big, bad, mean Romans. He lives and is forced into slavery, eventually becoming one of the strongest gladiators, which sees him being transported from Britannia to Pompeii. On the way to Pompeii Kit meets Cassia, the daughter of Severus, the guy who is in charge of Pompeii, and she is quickly stricken with lust at the sight of young Milo.
In Pompeii, Milo meets up and eventually becomes friends/brothers with Atticus, a barbarian gladiator who is one fight away from earning his freedom, when he is cheated of the opportunity when Roman senator Corvus and his lackey Proculus come to town to hear a proposal of why Rome should invest to renovate Pompeii, and are treated to a reenactment of their glory days of decimating the Celtic Horse village uprisings, with Milo and Atticus playing the savages and being chained up as to have no chance against the gladiators meant to be playing the Romans.
While Corvus is there he takes a liking to Cassia, and it is implied that while she was away in Rome, the two had some romantic encounters of some kind, much to the displeasure of Cassia. He refuses to invest unless Cassia and her father agree to Corvus taking Cassia as his wife, and if they refuse, he will tell the emperor Titus of their disloyalty to the Roman empire.
Back to the reenactment, during which Milo and Atticus singlehandedly destroy everyone else, and then publicly denounce Rome. Just when Senator Corvus is about to make his disdain for the two known, Mount Vesuvius begins to erupt, causing earthquakes. People in the arena, including the Roman nobles, flee toward the harbor to escape the impending doom that is Vesuvius. Corvus kidnaps Cassia, Milo goes to save her, kills Corvus, and the two ride off toward the south to escape their fiery destruction. Unfortunately, the horse they choose is too weak to outrun the ash and smoke and carry the two of them at the same time, so they dismount the horse, proclaim their love for each other and share one last kiss as they are engulfed in fire and smoke.
Everything about the movie was generic. The characters, the plot devices, the romance. The only thing that diverted from the path even a little bit was the fact that there was a ticking time bomb ready to destroy the city they all lived in.
As far as characters and their relationships go there really wasn’t any relationship that felt good. The only one that didn’t feel forced was the relationship between Milo and Atticus, but even that didn’t feel deep or fleshed out. It appeared that Cassia was best friends with a servant girl, and the dynamic there just seemed way too Disney princess movie. If you are going for a realistic display of what went down in Pompeii in 79 AD, don’t make the princess and the slave girl best friends, that would just never happen. The romantic part of the movie was just painful. There was no time for Milo or Cassia to learn anything about each other, and even when they did have time to spend together the chemistry was just not there. Barely any dialogue between two characters is a terrible way to build a romantic relationship, and it seemed like the director was just leaning on the hackneyed plot point of “princess falls in love with strong, capable slave boy” to make the relationship real. The relationship between Corvus and Milo was severely downplayed seeing as Corvus is the one responsible for the destruction of Milo’s people. After chasing Corvus through burning wreckage to rescue Cassia, Milo is given the opportunity to take revenge on Corvus, which the idea of revenge for Milo is something the movie hit heavily on. Instead of exacting his revenge when he has the chance, he simply leaves Corvus to die, giving a very unsatisfactory payoff to that arc. All in all, the characters are hard to care about and relate to, which left me rooting for Mt. Vesuvius, which in my opinion was the only intriguing character, in the end.
The acting was atrocious, which was disappointing, and has forever doomed Kit Harrington to be typecast. Emily Browning was stoic and emotionless throughout the entire movie. Her tearless depiction of sadness when Cassia’s father dies left me wanting to jeer out loud in the theater. The movie was just another paycheck for Kiefer Sutherland, who looked like he just walked on set on the first day of shooting without any preparation. Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje who played Atticus was the only person who looked like he gave any thought to his role or had any fun shooting the movie.
Whoever the Director of Photography was should be fired and never allowed to work on anything else. The camera work was an atrocity. None of the shots lined up to be pleasing to the eye or balanced, and if you know anything about photography or videography, the rule of thirds was broken many times. Any time there was a zoom in, it looked like it had been done in post-production, instead of on the camera. It was distracting from the action and heavily detrimental to the quality of the movie. In fact, I’m convinced that they didn’t pay enough to get cameras with a zoom feature on them due to the fact that most of their budget was spent on CG Visual effects, which i will admit weren’t as terrible as I expected them to be.
The last point I want to make is about how cheesy and predictable the ending is. One could tell from the moment Atticus and Milo meet, that Atticus would end up sacrificing his life so that Milo could get the girl in the end, and while predictable I was able to forgive that until the very last shot of the movie. After Milo and Cassia realize they aren’t going to make it, they dismount their horse, and kiss as they are engulfed in the disaster. The shot is filled with smoke, and the screen turns black. As the smoke clears, we are taken through close-ups of piled up ash and rock. The shot drags on, until eventually we see the two lovers memorialized forever sharing a kiss, petrified by the volcanic explosion. I literally facepalmed. If nothing else ruined the movie, it was that final shot full of cheese.
Overall, Pompeii was a movie that looked to capitalize upon the success of movies such as gladiator, with the added twist of a disaster movie. It could have worked had the writers created characters that people would care about, the actors had put more work into their roles, and the technical direction was better. Unfortunately, this film will always be seen as a disaster, and not a disaster movie.