Thursday, February 27, 2014

movie review: POMPEII (2014)


(reviews may contain spoilers for those that have never seen the film or are unfamiliar with the characters.)

* * *
POMPEII (2014)

Milo (Kit Harington) is a Celtic barbarian, captured as a young child after his village was slaughtered by Roman General Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), who was sent to quell a rebellion.

Despite orders being given that all shall be put to the sword Milo survives, only to live the life of a slave in the gladiatorial arena.

Eventually Milo and Corvus (now a Roman Senator) cross paths once more, during that ill fated week in 79 AD when Pompeii was wiped from the Roman World.

To complicate matters, Milo becomes enamored with a local administrator's daughter Cassia (Emily Browning), who has also caught the eye of Corvus.

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It's that time of the year when Hollywood entices us with the first of what they hope will be the big movies of the year.

Such seemed to be Pompeii when the first trailers suggested this was a can't miss film we'd have to see. When I saw my first trailer last fall I did make a mental note to see it when it was finally released.

To make it even more interesting, it would be a part of the ever growing number of films released in 3D. Who can resist a volcano decimating a Roman city when it's done in 3D?

I didn't. But, I should have.

This marked Kit Harington's first headliner performance. He's better known as Jon Snow, in HBO's Game of Thrones.

"The Celt", as Milo is commonly known, seemed like a cross between Clint Eastwood's Man with No Name movies and Arnold Schwarzenegger's Conan the Barbarian.

I suppose Milo's life would have been somber; seeing his parents slaughtered before his childhood eyes, and then living life as a slave. But, Harington's delivery seemed tired most of the time.

Carrie-Anne Moss (Matrix trilogy, Chocolat, Vegas)  gets second billing. I guess she earned it because of her track record. But, you could have replaced her with any number of stock Hollywood actresses for all the screen time she actually had.

Sadly, even Sutherland's portrayal of Corvus was somewhat laughable. He delivered his lines with one of two speeds. Most of the time he talked with a smugness and strange accent that sounded artificial at best. While, during the few times he shows full blown hatred he's to the point of almost screaming.

Relatively unknown Emily Browning (Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Sucker Punch) does an adequate job with Cassia. Seemingly innocent at first. But, then more seems to meet the eye as things get complicated between her, Milo and Corvus.

My favorite character was Atticus, played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje (Oz, Lost, GI Joe: Rise of Cobra).

While we don't know Atticus' background, he's obviously a proud man who survived as a gladiator long enough that his next match will earn what he wants most…his freedom. Yet, it's believable when he throws that to the wind when he sees duty, honor and revenge in helping Milo.

I felt more compassion for Atticus than I did for Milo; mostly because of the actors' performances.

The 3D effects were pretty much a waste of the extra $3 the theater charged to rent special glasses. With the exception of a few rocks and boulders flying around, it did absolutely nothing for me, to the point of forgetting the 3D effect was even there.

Sure, the best 3D films are those that don't overdo the effect, throwing it in the viewer's face. But, Pompeii was so underdone.

Director Paul W.S. Anderson (Resident Evil series, Event Horizon, AVP: Alien vs. Predator) told CBS that, "Obviously, it's a movie, not a documentary…but the story of Pompeii is so remarkable you don't need to embellish it."

If that's the case why did they? There are some glaring historical inaccuracies. But I can't mention them without spoiling some of the more intense parts of the film.

Perhaps he felt he needed to pad the script, because the film's running time is only 1 hour 39 minutes. Relatively short for a Hollywood epic these days.

It might have been better to devote the time to developing the relationship between Cassia and her parents, and to showing more of the life of a gladiator.

* * *

I really can't recommend this as a can't miss film and it will, no doubt, be forgotten by next year's Oscar nominations.

If you've invested in a big screen TV with super sound system, do yourself a favor and wait for the DVD release.

However, If you must see it in the theater, look for a matinee or some other discount. But, you'd better do it soon. Judging from the size of the crowd on opening weekend it may not be around too long.

RATED: 4.0 out of 10 STARS

* * *

Nearby theaters currently showing Pompeii are the UA Berkeley 7, AMC Bay Street 16 and Century 16 Hilltop.

A full listing of show times and locations can be found at Fandango.

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