Poor Plot But Great Special Effects In ‘Pompeii’


 I was surprised at how quickly time passed while watching Pompeii. Based on early reviews, it would be a cheesy, mediocre film. But I found it entertaining, while recognizing that it has major weaknesses. It is an OK movie. It is not up to the quality of Gladiator, much less Spartacus (the best of the genre). In many ways, it is merely a vehicle for some spectacular 3-D effects as Mount Vesuvius erupts. The problem is that there is an hour of preparation, and a story that, frankly, is a rewrite of Titanic.

Milo (Kit Harington) is a Celtic horse tribesman who became a slave as a child when a Roman army led by Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) and his top aide Proculus (Sasha Roiz) kill his family. Years later, he is a gladiator slave selected to be sent to Pompeii because he would be a flashy attraction. On the route, while in chains, he sees the carriage horse of pretty Pompeii resident Cassia (Emily Browning) have an accident and is able to mercifully put the horse down. As a result, Cassia falls for him.

In Pompeii, Milo meets with the man set to kill him in the arena, Atticus, (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), a huge African who has won so many matches, he will soon gain his freedom. They each promise the other an easy death, but then things get complicated. Corvus, now a Roman senator, comes to Pompeii and offers a profitable deal to Cassia’s father Severus (Jared Harris) with Cassia as the prize. His major line to her when she shows she is not thrilled about the deal is, “I will break you.” Smooth operator! What woman could resist? At any rate, they move to the arena, where Atticus is betrayed and he, Milo and a handful of others battle a raft of others in the best scene in the movie.

As all of this is going on, Mount Vesuvius erupts. There were many hints about the upcoming eruption, including earthquakes and cracked buildings. When the big eruption comes, everyone tries to escape. No one does.

The problem with the movie, aside from the plot, which has been seen so many times before, is Harington. While his abs are great, he demonstrates little acting ability. One of the best things about Gladiator was the strength of Russell Crowe. Spartacus had Kirk Douglas. Harington just seems to glare a lot when not leading an action scene.

By far the best performer is Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who manages not only to have the physical presence needed for a great gladiator, but an enormous dignity and great humor. The movie would have been far better with him at its center. Browning was also very good. She presents a dignity and strength that makes her scenes dealing with her parents and Corvus good. Sutherland, unfortunately, creates a character that is so casually evil that he is not much more than a stereotype. Roiz is under-utilized. He is a far more interesting villain who spends most of the movie playing second banana.

The special effects are spectacular. Once the volcano explodes, the story comes to life. Ships are destroyed by flying rocks and lava. There is a tidal wave that rips into the city, bringing a boat flying through the streets.

The final half-hour of the movie is its best part, as people attempt to escape destruction. Director Paul W.S. Anderson mixes a focus on several different types of people in their escape attempts, along with the special effects. And he manages to bring in several good battle scenes into the middle of the whole thing. If the first two-thirds of the movie had been as good, this would have been an exceptional film.

I got through the entire movie without any thoughts of going to the candy stand or the bathroom, simply because it was fun. It is the kind of movie that can be fun if your expectations are not all that high but you want straightforward entertainment.