"Pompeii," director Paul WS Anderson's take on the well-known ancient disaster, is a fun and exciting movie that never lets up the tension or pacing. With some romance elements added on top of the action, the movie has a little something for all movie fans.
Most people are familiar with the name "Pompeii," the town destroyed by Mt. Vesuvius in ancient Roman times, then discovered in the 19th century perfectly preserved. That ancient history comes alive to wonderful effect in the movie "Pompeii," which brings the disaster to the hometown of characters the audience comes to care about early on.
Kit Harington, best known as Jon Snow in "Game of Thrones," brings a brooding intensity to his role as Milo the Celt, a gladiator torn from his family at a young age and forced to fight to stay alive. Milo has every expectation that each day will be his last, so it's an irony indeed when he finds a reason to live just as he actually reaches his last day on Earth. Milo meets the love of his life, a princess of Pompeii named Cassia (played beautifully by Emily Browning of "Sucker Punch"), when he is called upon to help her injured horse. From that moment on, these two are clearly meant for each other. However, not only is it wrong in Roman society for a slave and gladiator like Milo to have anything to do with a patrician like Cassia, she already has a suitor in the corrupt Roman senator Corvus, played with scenery-chewing glee by Kiefer Sutherland. To make matters even worse, there is no time for these star-crossed lovers to act on their love, because Mt. Vesuvius, which hovers over the town throughout the movie, is about to explode and destroy not only their hopes and dreams, but those of everyone on screen.
The movie reaches its pinnacle when the volcano erupts right in the middle of a gladiator battle involving Milo and his enemy-turned-friend Atticus, a formidable gladiator played magnificently by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, whom audiences may recognize as Mr. Eko from "Lost." The volcano effects in "Pompeii" are stunning, especially in 3-D. The movie takes the audience right inside the jaw-dropping horrors of being in the midst of one of the great volcanic explosions of history, complete with flaming rocks smashing down into the city, clouds of ash and smoke everywhere, and earthquakes that split the ground wide open and swallow characters whole. The volcanic effects in the movie are historically accurate and truly breathtaking. As Milo manages to break free from his lock-up with the rest of the gladiators, then rescues Cassia from certain death, the world around them just gets worse and worse.
While Milo goes after Cassia, the audience follows Atticus to the harbor, where they get to experience one of the most spellbinding scenes in the movie: the tsunami, a scene which director Anderson has labeled as the one he is proudest of in the film. "Pompeii" lets the viewer see the build-up to the tsunami, with water being sucked out of the city's harbor and boats keeling over, followed by the growth of the giant wave and its explosion out over the city, shoving giant boats ahead of it right down the city streets. It's a magnificent sequence, worth the price of admission all on its own.
Interspersed with all these effects is the continuing love story of Milo and Cassia and their attempts to get away from Sutherland's deliciously nasty Senator Corvus. Corvus arranges for certain death in the arena for Milo, a death which Cassia manages to foil. He then has his minions fight Milo, manages to kidnap Cassia, and ends by fighting Milo one-on-one. All of this is B-movie fun and games at its best, with Sutherland's behavior provoking gasps and even boos from opening night audiences.
As the movie draws to a close, the volcano gets the last say. All that smoke and fire it has been belching out over the city isn't enough. With one final explosion, Mt. Vesuvius itself collapses, with the heat and ferocity of the moment blasting over all the trees on the mountainside in one fell swoop. Again following the historical record, audiences drop their jaws at the power and fear generated by the pyroclastic flow that famously encapsulated the entire city in a matter of minutes, covering it so that the city was lost to history for almost two millennia. The pyroclastic flow races down the mountain and through the city streets, destroying everything in its wake and frying everything to a crisp instantly. It's overwhelming to see, in the final minutes of the movie, the sheer power that nature can evoke.
While the highlight of the movie is definitely the effects, the performances in "Pompeii" are generally strong. Standing out amid the crowd is Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who holds the audience captive from the first time he appears on screen. His character's relationship with Milo grounds the movie emotionally, and every moment between them is utterly believable and real. Harington is also strong in "Pompeii," with his simmering intensity fueling his love story with Cassia and his action scenes exciting and technically adept.
" Pompeii " delivers both a fabulous romance and an incredibly exciting action / disaster movie at the same time. It's astonishing that no movie has been made in over 50 years about one of the most famous disasters of all time, and "Pompeii" definitely delivers. With incredible effects and a heart-wrenching story, "Pompeii" is definitely a must-see.