Review: ‘Pompeii’ doesn’t give a junk auteur enough to do

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Kit Harington try not to die in "Pompeii." Credit: Caitlin Cronenberg
Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Kit Harington try not to die in “Pompeii.”
Credit: Caitlin Cronenberg

‘Pompeii’
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Stars: Kit Harington, Emily Browning
Rating: PG-13
2 (out of 5) Globes

You may not think a filmmaker whose filmography is half video game adaptations would have a serious critical fanbase. But such acclaim has fallen upon junk auteur Paul W.S. Anderson. It’s not undeserved. At his best (his three “Resident Evil” entries), he’s a clean, visual stylist worthy of study. At his worst (“Alien vs. Predator,” the noisy, clangy “Death Race” remake), he’s a hack, deserving of nothing. Either way, he’s a brand of filmmaker that’s been with us since cinema’s start: the workhorse whose craft is loved by the masses (sometimes), but ignored, even mocked, by all but a batch of the cognoscenti.

Indeed, if he had been around in the 1950s, Anderson might have cranked out something like “Pompeii,” a swords-and-sandals throwback with few aspirations than to throw out a few thrilling fight scenes then destroy its titular town-city with an erupting volcano. Releasing in the era, it would have been a low-rent rip-off of the lumbering Roman epics of the period, one that cuts to the chase to give you the goods.

Of course, “Pompeii” is a $100 million behemoth, fitted with 3-D that makes the carnage that much more questionably thrilling. But at heart it’s a B-movie. Part “Gladiator,” part “Titanic,” it centers on a Celtic badass with the very non-badass name of Milo (Kit Harington, of “Game of Thrones”). Captured and dragged to the doomed locale, he attracts the illicit stares of Cassia (Emily Browning), who finds his manliness much more hotcha than the preening overtures of a corrupt Senator (Kiefer Sutherland, doing a very good Billy Zane).

Little of this matters, of course, because everyone’s going to die. That the filmmakers are as unforgiving and indiscriminate as Mount Vesuvius itself is marginally interesting — marginally. Truth is, “Pompeii” is a passably anonymous gladiator programmer that gets interrupted by a so-so apocalypse. On one level, it’s admirable that Anderson takes no joy in the hellish wiping out of decent and hissable alike, in burning up or drowning innocent women and children. He does take glee when various baddies eat it, but that’s to be expected.

On the other level, “Pompeii” needs more vulgarity. The script is too basic, even for Anderson, and the decimation, when it comes, just doesn’t give him enough to do visually. The palette gets stained black and gray with smoke and ash, punctuated only by the orange of spat fireballs. But Anderson is someone who excels at screen movement; think the delightful zig-zagging through frames — in 3-D, no less — in “Resident Evil: Afterlife.” The running and fleeing and occasional fighting — when they should be trying to reach higher ground — through the murk of an erupting volcano only proves monotonous. You’ve seen one felled building or ship, you’ve seen them all.

Predictably, Anderson can’t do anything with the star-crossed romance aspect. He has no feel for characters as people — to him, they’re just bodies to move about and occasionally kick butt. He needs heroes with personality and swagger, like his wife and frequent star Milla Jovovich. He gets Harington, who is granite rock — good with a sword, okay with a badass bellow, listless at anything else. (There’s some decent back-up in fellow fighter Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who snarls like few have ever snarled.) Even shameless junk needs some meat on it. This is bare-boned.

Follow Matt Prigge on Twitter @mattprigge



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

Federal mediator joins Met Opera labor talks as…

Unions representing the orchestra and chorus of the Met Opera agreed to have a federal mediator join labor talks on Thursday as a threatened lockout loomed.

Local

Winning $7 million New York lottery ticket sold…

The only $7 million winning New York Lottery ticket for Monday's Cash4Life drawing was sold at a Queens 7-Eleven, officials said on Tuesday.

Local

Brooklyn man charged in roommate's stabbing death

A Brooklyn man accused of violently stabbing his roommate to death on Monday is in police custody and faces murder charges.

International

Dinosaurs could have survived asteroid strike

It turns out there is a good and a bad time for the planet to be hit by a meteor, and dinosaurs were just unlucky.…

Movies

Review: 'Guardians of the Galaxy' is a refreshingly…

Marvel is sitting so high on a cash mountain that it's now thrown $170 million at the relatively obscure and very silly title "Guardians of the Galaxy."

Movies

Review: 'Get on Up' is a war between…

James Brown finally gets his own boring biopic with "Get on Up," but the Godfather of Soul puts up a good fight against the usual cliches.

Movies

Review: 'Child of God' finds director James Franco…

James Franco's 11th directed feature is a noble but sloppy adaptation of Cormac McCarthy's "Child of God," about a feral mountain man (Scott Haze).

Movies

Review: Alex Gibney's Fela Kuti doc 'Finding Fela'…

Prolific documentarian Alex Gibney takes on Afrobeat god Fela Kuti in "Finding Fela," but fails to capture his unique essence.

MLB

Yankees land Stephen Drew, Martin Prado at trade…

Yankees land Stephen Drew, Martin Prado at trade deadline

College

Playing the Field: Valentine's Day coupling edition

  It’s Valentine’s Day, a day created by Hallmark to make couples spend loads and loads of money on candy, flowers and gourmet dinners. Or…

MLB

Angelo Cataldi: Ryan Howard deserves better from Phillies

Just last week, Ryan Howard endured the embarrassment of a benching that was inevitable, and yet still shocking.

NFL

Larry Donnell has inside track in Giants tight…

Little-known Larry Donnell of Grambling State currently has the inside track, as the second-year player has received the bulk of the first-team reps.

Career

What do you wear to a career fair?…

Getting that gig starts with presenting the most polished and memorable version of yourself, so refer to our expert fashion advice.

Style

Editors pick: Margiela's finger armor ring

These cool rings from Maison Martin Margiela are designed to overlap over the finger, covering each joint like armor.

Style

Givenchy champions diversity

Riccardo Tisci's uses a variety of ethnically diverse ladies for his spring campaign including Erykah Badu.

Wellbeing

Don't settle for the hotel fitness center with…

Travelers who want to skip the hotel fitness center in favor of local gyms that may offer better equipment, classes and amenities can turn to…