Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland
105 mins; Class 2; KRS

What is it about Hollywood and its recent penchant for sword-and-sandals epics fused with Mills and Boon-style romance? The recent Hercules was guilty of this odd coupling. Similarly, Pompeii’s story gets buried in a mound of sentimental slush as the city is buried in a mountain of lava and ash.

79 A.D. As the ground quivers ominously beneath it, the magnificent city of Pompeii prepares to celebrate the annual Vinalia. In a chance encounter, Milo (Kit Harington), a slave turned gladiator, and Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of a wealthy Pompeiian family, catch each other’s eyes and fall in love. She has been promised, however, to Quintus Attius Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland), a ruthless Roman Senator in town to conduct business with Cassie’s father Marcus Cassius Severus (Jared Harris).

As Milo prepares to fight for his freedom in the gladiatorial arena, the imposing Mount Vesuvius, which sits majestically over the city, erupts and destroys everything in its wake.

When the most emotional part of a film is the opening narrative, excerpts taken from Pliny the Younger’s accounts of the disaster, describing the “…shrieks of women, the wailing of infants, and the shouting of men; … there were some who prayed for death in their terror of dying… and the universe was plunged into eternal darkness for evermore”, it is clear that something is terribly amiss.

The script itself, written by Janet Scott, Lee Batchler and Michael Robert Johnson, burdens the cast with an uninspiring plot that goes exactly where you expect it to. There is only so much they can wring out of with the cheesy dialogue their paper-thin characters spout.

Harington’s Milo, initially seeking revenge on those who killed his family when he was a boy and ultimately on a quest for true love, retains the same single expression throughout. He struggles to find a spark with co-star Browning, even with all the fires burning around them. Browning adds a modicum of feistiness to her Cassie, while Kiefer Sutherland hams it up somewhat as the callous senator. Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss as Cassie’s parents are a dignified couple.

The political manoeuvring is dull and the love story tepid

Proceedings pick up somewhat whenever Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje is on screen; his imposing presence as the invincible gladiator Atticus adding gravitas to all he does, and he makes the gladiatorial combat mildly diverting. Overall, the political manoeuvring is so dull and the love story so tepid, you want the volcano to just get on with it and erupt. And thank the god of fire when it does, for director Paul W.S Anderson finally flexes his creative muscles to create Armageddon.

A fiery spectacle is unleashed, raining down lava, ash, rocks and fire on the hapless city and its doomed inhabitants with the force of many a wrathful god. Earthquakes create gargantuan fissures in the earth and the sea in the port cultivates a terrifying tsunami as the city is plunged into darkness under a cloak of ash.

Thousands of hysterical people attempt to flee the city, pushing, charging and climbing over one another in abject terror as buildings crumble around them, fire sets them alight, and galleys are tossed around the port like plastic balls in a lottery urn.

It is an astonishing and breathtaking sequence. If the film lacks energy up to this point, it more than makes up for it hereon in, saving this disaster film from being a complete and utter disaster.

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