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Review: Pompeii

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Synopsis: Jon Snow (Kit Harrington) is a slave-gladiator. Son to a murdered dad; God to a murdered dog; Horse Whisperer to a murdered horse. Having recently been sold to battle in Pompeii’s upcoming games he finds love in Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of the city’s ruler. Along the way he has a reluctant BFFship with Mr Eko (Adewale Akinnouye-Agbaje) and evil stare-offs with the Roman General Corvus (Keifer Sutherland), the man who slaughtered Jon Snow’s people. Characters bicker; sexy people try to mate; poor folks watch gladiator fights, and it all goes to heck when Mount Vesuvius decides to explode.

Pompeii isn’t half bad for what it’s meant to be (‘B-movie Titanic, with a volcano’). Currently on Rotten Tomatoes the ‘general consensus’ for the film is that Pompeii is bad because it is ‘nothing more than a guilty pleasure’. There’s nothing wrong with taking on the film for its contextual flaws but what we shouldn’t do is take it on for what it is; that’s filmcist!

Audiences don’t get to tell director Paul W.S. Anderson that Pompeii is bad because it is a guilty pleasure, they get to tell Paul W.S. Anderson that Pompeii is bad because it takes itself too seriously and, despite some pretty neat special effects it just doesn’t meet the longevity criteria that makes a great action-disaster film. Yes, Titanic this ain’t, and that’s not bad. The same people who treat Armageddon or Independence Day with high esteem will enjoy the gosh darn chutney out of Pompeii but will likely not be able to see past the missing spark that would make it great.

The action-disaster film is meant to bounce between a huge ensemble of characters who each engage in witty banter, all the while jumping a variety of hilariously ironic hurdles. Pompeii is a very much a stick-to-the-book, straight-faced kind of high-tail through the hamstrung plot deal, and that’s where it falls apart because on that level it is not good enough. Back to traditionals, sure, Jon Snow and Mr Eko have a surprisingly great dynamic and Keifer Sutherland’s TAX MAN/ARMY MAN/RAPEY MAN/WEIRDO bad guy is fun to watch for all the wrong reasons, too, but unfortunately the few great action-disaster seeds are ruined by the film’s aesthetic and tone being simply too upscale.

The primary smackdown all are permitted to bestow on the film, however, is that every one of the film’s characters (barring Adewale – he’d put your face through a drywall before you could make him do this) speak with an annoyingly put-on ‘English’ accent. This is a tired trope in the sword-and-sandals genre and it is made even worse when even the main character, called “the Celt” speaks the Queen’s. We get it, America, English is a smashing accent which is recognized and easily interpreted by cinemagoers across the globe. However, most would rather stab their ears with the straw from their 6 litre cinema cola than listen to Emily Browning or Kiefer Sutherland speek loik dey fink Mary Poppins duz.

Ultimately, there are some amazing reasons to watch Pompeii. Jon Snow overcompensating with the bodybuilding for the role because the script described his character as, according to IMDB, “absolutely ripped” is one example, an amazing sequence in which Mr Eko outruns a tsunami is another. If cheesy action-disaster films are your kind of thing, head on down to Pompeii. It’s a delicious shit-fest, and  appears to be quite historically accurate to boot (apparently…). Don’t all flock at once, now.

@sjbowron

Pompeii is in UK cinemas now

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