‘Pompeii’ Tries and Fails to Be a Great Action Film

In the cycle of a year in cinema, big-budget, star-studded blockbusters are typically reserved for the summer months, while critically acclaimed films that will ultimately occupy the year's Oscar ballots are released in fall and early winter.

In keeping with this pattern, January to March is typically the period in which studios choose to release the films in their docket which they predict are not of a caliber that can compete in the fall months, nor do they have the star power or brand recognition to go toe-to-toe with the other summer powerhouses. We are currently in the doldrums of those early months, and Paul W.S. Anderson's "Pompeii" may be our rock bottom.

"Pompeii" stars "Game of Thrones'" Kit Harrington as Milo, a gladiator set out to save the woman he's fallen for, Cassia (Emily Browning), from the Roman senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), the man responsible for the death of Milo's family. Corvus now wishes to wed Cassia, as well as destroy Pompeii with the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. 

While watching "Pompeii," viewers will find themselves noting all the contrived attempts the film makes to do what other films accomplished (successfully) before it. From "Titanic's" love story to "Gladiator's" displays of heroism in the arena, to the destruction of cities depicted in "Godzilla" and countless other films, viewers witness "the poor man's" version of the history film.

"Pompeii" also serves as a reminder that just because a movie costs nine figures to make ($100 million according to boxofficemojo.com), doesn't necessarily mean the effects will look good or believable. This is surprising, given the current state of increased technology at decreased costs that have made it easier for films on a tighter budget to make use of CGI. Last summer's "This is the End" comes to mind, which utilized some similar fire and brimstone and natural disaster elements much more credibly at a reported cost of just $32 million. Point being, if a film sets out to instill a sense of doom and helplessness in viewers, particularly ones who have become familiar with what destruction caused by things like earthquakes and tsunamis actually looks like, it behooves one to make realism a priority. 

There's nothing wrong with enjoying mindless action. There's nothing wrong with indulging in cheesy forbidden romance. Nor is there anything wrong with liking period pieces, tales of vengeance, or "disaster porn." However, if any of these are what you are looking for, you are better served finding it in the plethora of films "Pompeii" tries, and fails, to be.