By Jessica Delfanti | February 26, 2014
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Writers: Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler, Michael Robert Johnson
Starring: Kit Harington, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland, Carrie-Anne Moss, Jessica Lucas, Jared Harris
In 79 AD, Mount Vesuvius erupted, causing an explosion that incinerated thousands in the unsuspecting settlements around the Mountain’s base. This devastation is the focus of Paul W.S. Anderson’s ultra-Hollywood 3D disaster flick Pompeii, or, as I affectionately call it, “Jon Snow’s Muscles.”
Pompeii centers on a Celtic gladiator named Milo (Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington), who is unlucky enough to get carted off to Pompeii on the exact day of the cataclysmic disaster. Rough luck, dude. Well known for his prowess in combat, Milo is lined up to fight the city’s champion, Atticus (Lost’s marvelous Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje)–but the fight is destined for an unlikely ending. Enter: Volcano.
While the film focuses mostly on Milo, posing Harington as a would-be leading man, Akinnuoye-Agbaje steals the show as Atticus, a bad-ass “barbarian” fighter with a heart of gold. He is so physically formidable and charismatic that Harington often seems to fade into the background. Harington, famous for his stoic performance as Game of Thrones’ Jon Snow, appears to have worked on his physique far more than his acting chops–and hey, that’s okay for Pompeii (or “Jon Snow’s Muscles”), since his role seems to mostly involve him not wearing a shirt while hitting people and talking to horses. He may not be able to deliver lines convincingly, but did I mention the muscles? Muscles, muscles, muscles.
On top of the gladiator fight plot, there’s one of the flimsiest meet-cutes ever seen on screen, as Milo encounters the noble lady Cassia (Emily Browning). Their romance is so silly it’s almost not worth talking about. They love each other, just go with it.
Naturally, Cassia is the desired wife of psychopathic Roman Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), who really, really is not into Jon Snow and his muscles. Corvus is just the right kind of cartoony, unnecessary villain for a Hollywood film that forgets about how humans work (the romance–oh, nevermind). Sutherland is hilarious in the role, looking like Jack Bauer in a 300 Halloween costume and spouting Roman things about gods and grapes and senators with a weird half-English accent. Between Harington and Sutherland, I have no idea what the casting director was thinking, but she must have a great sense of humor.
The film feels bizarrely schizophrenic in its focus, part about gladiators and class division in the Roman Empire, part an excerpt from 2012. I assume the first half is designed to give context to the second, but let’s be honest, most people are there for the real star of the film: the volcano. And the volcano does not disappoint, spewing huge fireballs, raining ash and pumice, and generally being altogether epic. I loved the 3D effects on the ashfall, constantly present and giving a sense of raining ash within the theater. Nevermind the movie is exploiting an actual event that killed thousands of people, it’s Hollywood and it was so long ago! Viewers that love a good disaster scene will find the volcano eruption worth the $16.
In spite of the fact that Pompeii is not a good movie, it is undoubtedly an enjoyable one. It’s the kind of movie where all the bad guys get their comeuppance in deliciously satisfying ways, where characters perform impossible fighting stunts and costumes are impossibly beautiful. The romance is flippant and Kiefer Sutherland wants to kill everyone. It’s a campy, bloody, fiery mess, but boy is it fun to watch. And don’t forget the muscles.