Pompeii has one bad case of Gladiator envy. Not only does Paul W.S. Anderson’s film open with a battle in Britannia against Romans and the local savages, it also follows its own sword-wielding Spaniard substitute “The Celt” (Kit Harington, Game of Thrones) into an arena governed by political squabbling.
Outside of this basic blueprint, however, the similarities end. One of the many reasons why Gladiator is a great film is its gore, and by comparison the PG-13 Pompeii is gratuitously tame. The Celt (whose uber-masculine real name is Milo) stabs his fair share of opponents, but blood squirts and other carnage are as rare as an original idea in the script.
Instead, Pompeii more closely resembles this year’s other gladiatorial bomb, The Legend of Hercules. The visual quality and effects here are slightly better and the love story between Milo and the wealthy Cassia (Emily Browning, Sucker Punch) isn’t quite as corny, but the two films have more in common than Anderson and his supporters would like to admit. Both feature B-to-C-list stars (Jared Harris and Kiefer Sutherland know better, yet here they are), and though Pompeii’s budget is a good $30 million greater, its effects are dull and its 3D inconsequential. A detail like Hercules’ slo-mo 300 knockoffs would have been welcome in this anonymous milieu, but no such luck.
The other cinematic cousin that’s mentioned here more out of necessity than merit is Titanic. As with the James Cameron “classic,” Pompeii offers a historical tale where things don’t end so well for its players, yet there’s far less compassion for these characters. 20/20 hindsight aside, the doomed city’s citizens are almost comically unconcerned with the rumblings coming from Vesuvius to the point that their demise is all but encouraged. Instead of striving to alter their destinies, Cassia, Milo, and his gladiatorial rival-turned-best-friend Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Lost) compete in the Surviver Shuffle, Italy’s least popular new reality TV show.
What had ambitions of an effects-laden quest to dodge the most molten meteors winds up as a dull race to be the last person standing amidst the rubble. Even with its own take on “I’ll never let go, Jack,” Pompeii pales in comparison to its inevitable ending cousin. That it concludes with possibly the cheesiest end shot of 2014’s movies doesn’t help, but when so much is already stacked against it, how exactly was this moronic project supposed to succeed in the first place?
Rated PG-13 for intense battle sequences, disaster-related action and brief sexual content.
Pompeii is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.