[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00J8FGW9Q][/pullquote] Director Paul W.S. Anderson, known for his terrible computer game adaptations turns his hand to the swords and sandals action genre in Pompeii. Clearly unwilling to just have an action film, he can’t resist having some huge force of nature on hand to remind all his characters that we exist purely because nature allows us too. The film also provides Game of Thrones star Kit Harrington with his first leading role.
Enslaved following the crushing of the Celtic horse lords army, Celt (Harrington) is transferred from Britannia to Pompeii where he is put to work as a gladiator. During his combat in the arena he manages to irritate Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) and impress Cassia (Emily Browning). As the huge mountain in the distance begins to rumble ominously Celt and fellow gladiator Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) are put up against all the other gladiators in a re-enactment of a famous defeat, while Cassia’s parents Severus (Jared Harris) and Aurelia (Carrie Anne-Moss) negotiate her marriage to the Senator.
It is too easy to compare all Roman era action films as variations of Gladiator, but in the case of Pompeii, the similarities begin to overwhelm the film to the point of distraction. We start on the outskirts of the Roman Empire, our hero is a slave of incredible skill in combat and he wins the support of the people in spite of the evil machinations of those in power. But beyond the obvious there are shots lifted directly from the film, like the close-up of the Celt’s sword-hand dripping with blood in slow-motion or the overcoming of a historical battle with the wrong side winning. However what is apparent is that Paul W.S. Anderson is no Ridley Scott and Kit Harrington is no Russell Crowe.
Aside from the dreadful dialogue and the films urgency to get to the explosion of the volcano, there is actually much to be admired about the production design. Ancient Rome appears to be well recreated and the look and feel of everything from armour to buildings is neatly realised. Unfortunately these are elements that should represent the window-dressing to the meat of the narrative, not the highlight of the film. The action is laboured, the special effects underwhelming and the actual story simultaneously clichÃ©d and poorly paced.
You would think with Gladiator as the model for the first two thirds and Dante’s Peak for the finale that Anderson would be able to keep everything ticking along, if not nicely then at least efficiently. But even in this regard the paper-thin plot wavers and drags, with Harrington struggling with poorly written dialogue and Sutherland attempting a scenery-chewing bad guy, but distracting with his ˜British’ accent, if you can call it that.