This week’s film selection was brought to you by nepotism. My brother worked in the sound department for Pompeii (filling in – sadly he’s not in the credits) so of course our family turned out in support. I’m not sure I would have bothered with this one otherwise. The effects looked cool and there’s Kit Harington, but the Pompeii story is not one of my hot buttons.
A Celtic gladiator competes with a skeezy Roman senator for the love of a wealthy daughter of Pompeii… on the eve of a giant volcano explosion!
The story of Pompeii is a paint-by-numbers construct, taking all your standard hero clichés and assembling them into a half-decently pretty canvas that is subsequently destroyed by the REAL star of the movie: the volcano effects. I enjoyed it, but I seriously doubt it will make anyone’s ‘best of’ list.
Our hero (whose name we don’t learn until about halfway through the movie) is an adorably pouty Celtic toddler when Proculus Something Something-or-Other (Sasha Roiz) rides into town with a Roman legion and slaughters his entire horse tribe. Pouty Toddler (Dylan Schombing) survives and is picked up by some slavers, then seventeen years later he’s a gladiator in Londinium. Which raises the question: has this kid been fighting since he was FOUR??
We call him One Pec, because he outgrew his armor ten years ago and they never gave him new stuff.
Pouty Gladiator (Kit Harington) is so good that he’s shipped off to fight some REAL battles in the REAL empire, which for some reason means he ends up in Pompeii, not Rome. While Pouty marches to the city in chains, Cassia (Emily Browning), darling daughter of the mayor, and her attendant Ariadne (Jessica Lucas) have a convenient carriage malfunction requiring the assistance of a pouty Celtic horse expert.
He’s so dreamy… those pouty lips… and that SMELL… when was his last bath, I wonder?
The middle of the movie splits its time between two storylines – Pouty’s and Cassia’s. Cassia has just come home from Rome to escape the unwanted advances of Senator Corvus Bibbity Blah Long Name (Kiefer Sutherland). Unfortunately her loving but ineffectual parents (Jared Harris and Carrie Ann Moss) have invited Corvus to Pompeii. They want his money, but what they get is veiled death threats, blackmail, and designs on their daughter.
Bad news, darling. I think we just sunk our chances of winning Parents of the Year.
Pouty, meanwhile, is jailed underneath the Colisum where he meets fellow gladiator Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) who fills two simultaneous stereotypes: black best friend and guy on the eve of retirement whom something tragic happens to. Atticus has the goal of staying alive long enough to earn his freedom under Roman law.
Because they will totally release a trained killing machine with a 20-year grudge against Rome.
Pouty (who eventually admits his name is Milo) has the (sort of) goal of nailing Cassia (who is out of his league, because he’s a slave) and of avenging his family Inigo Montoya style, because (conveniently) Proculus is part of Corvus’ entourage. Given the choice, though, revenge can take a sideline to rescuing the princess and/or her horses, because that’s just how he rolls.
The storylines come together during the big gladiator fight. Cassia’s parents have staged a re-creation of the Celtic massacre to impress Corvus, but since they put all the best fighters on the ‘losing’ side, things don’t exactly turn out how Corvus remembers.
No no, the Romans slaughter the Celts! Do I have to do everything myself!?
The festivities are interrupted by earthquakes caused by the unsettled mountain (which has been secretly picking people off the whole movie like the villain in a horror film). Corvus tells everybody it’s the god Vulcan speaking to them so the crowd won’t panic.
Vulcan speaks! He says: f*** all you guys.
Then the world explodes and the stage is taken over by Vesuvius: the true star of Pompeii. Vesuvius spews 3D ash and smoke clouds, rains rocks and fire, shakes a tsunami out of the ocean, separates a crying child from its parents, emperils the princess, and generally turns the whole town into a pile of ash and rubble. Which didn’t really happen, because excavated Pompeii is mostly intact, but it sure does look awesome in the movie.
FWOAR VOLCANO SMASH!
If it seems like it takes an awful long time for Pompeii to be destroyed, you’re right. This is for two reasons. One: in the world of CGI disaster movies, it’s go big or go home. And two: the plot threads need to be tied up before the movie can end, which means Vesuvius has to hold onto its top long enough for everyone to get revenge and/or smoochies from the princess.
So should you see Pompeii? Totally. It’s worth it just to watch the orgy of volcano destruction at the end. And even the story’s not so bad. Sure it’s riddled with clichés, but Pouty Celt is cute, the princess isn’t TOO helpless (she does have to be rescued, but only after saving the hero’s life a few times) and they did a really great job of recreating all the big Roman setpieces. Plus my brother worked on it. Nepotism in action!