views from the gods

saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Pompeii (12A)
Vue, West End
28th April 2014

★★★☆☆

Everyone knows - or at least, they should do - the story of Pompeii's fall. It's been told by many, from Pliny the Younger (who is quoted at the start of the film) to Sid Colin (yup, Carry On style). In an attempt to add a bit more plot to the historical event which is essentially "big volcano goes boom", Game of Thrones star and flavour of the month Kit Harington has been cast as Milo, a Scottish horseman whose family were slaughtered by the Romans when he was just a wee bairn, and who has consequently been forced to fight as a gladiator for others' entertainment. It's a backstory that anyone on The X Factor would kill for, if Milo didn't kill them first, either with his sword or death stare.

As the daughter of two of Pompeii's biggest VIPs, it's tragically clear from the start that Cassia (Emily Browning) is out of Milo's league. We wouldn't have any other way though, with Vesuvius about to blow, it's not going to end well for anyone, so why not dream the impossible dream? Milo is strong (well, gladiators tend not to last long if they're not), silent (when he's not busy a-killing, he's busy a-staring, not exactly the world's greatest conversationalist) and animals love him. It's the Celtic connection, Milo can charm any horse and any woman. He's got the muscles and he's got the awww.

It's just a shame that there's no real chemistry between Harington and Browning. A love story is set up, but never fully exploited. Think less Rose and Jack ("I'll never let go") and more Tobey Marshall and Julie Maddon from this year's video game turned movie, Need for Speed. The leads look good and are supported by plenty of eye candy, but despite the Romans' enduring reputation for debauchery, there really is none. This flick is all about action of a different kind.

Keifer Sutherland makes for a particuarly camp villain as Corvus (possibly channelling that Carry On vibe) and whilst his accent is odd, he does achieve what he sets out to do. He's the character you love to hate, spreading injustice for the funsies and making our skin crawl as he propositions a thoroughly disgusted Cassia.

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje plays Atticus, another gladiator who becomes an ally of Milo, and like Sutherland, does his best with a far-fetched script. The fighting is fun to watch, but medically speaking, much of what happens to him is impossible. Again, it's just difficult to connect with someone who's so obviously made up.

The plot is paper thin, makes no mistake about that, but the film is nonetheless strangely gripping. It's trash, but it looks good on the big screen, with some of the best 3D I've seen in a very long time. There's not a need for 3D throughout the entire film, but the ash at the start and the final scenes as the volcano erupts are just stunning. Director Paul W. S. Anderson doesn't make us feel, but he gives us plenty to look at. The overall attention to detail in Anderson's Pompeii is remarkable, from the villa to the forum. It's just a shame that in the cutting room, a few bloopers have worked their way in which will probably be remembered more.

The chemistry may be lacking, but there are plenty of well-choreographed fighting scenes and disaster-movie moments. Pompeii is a feast for the eyes, which doesn't try to be too clever (making it an improvement on Divergent). If you're after pure escapism, this is it. Worth a watch when your mind wants to switch off, and certainly on the biggest screen you can find. If you want to be intellectually challenged or make an emotional connection, go watch something else.

Pompeii was released in the UK on 30th April 2014.

Nearest tube station: Leicester Square (Piccadilly, Northern)



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