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
National

Dogs are capable of feeling jealousy - U.S.…

By Curtis Skinner(Reuters) - Dogs are a man's best friend, and research released on Wednesday says canines want to keep it that way.Dogs are capable…

Local

G train riders brace for five-week shutdown

G train service will be suspended between Brooklyn and Queens between Friday, July 25, and Tuesday, Sept. 2.

International

Peaches Geldof's death was drugs-related, coroner rules

LONDON (Reuters) - The death of Peaches Geldof, the daughter of musician and Band Aid founder Bob Geldof, was drugs-related, a coroner ruled on Wednesday.The…

Local

Family, supporters gather in Brooklyn for Eric Garner…

Family members gathered on Wednesday for the funeral of Eric Garner, who died shortly after police put him in a banned chokehold as they arrested him.

Going Out

Where to go drinking on National Tequila Day…

Thursday is just close enough to the end of the week to make you envision yourself already sunning on a beach towel or lounging by…

Going Out

Things to do in NYC this week: July…

Performing arts A 70’s Summer Night Friday, 6:30 p.m. The Green Building 452 Union St., Gowanus $35, 347-529-6473 Party like it’s summer in the 1970s…

Going Out

5 must-try dishes at Edible Manhattan's Good Beer

Rooting out the exotic amid the New York City bar scene is noble quest. But if you’d like to have it all come to you,…

Books

Art imitates life (almost) in David Shapiro's new…

David Shapiro talks about his book, "You're Not Much Use To Anyone."

NFL

Jerry Reese confident with Giants, skipping countdown clocks…

Last year, Giants GM Jerry Reese installed a countdown clock in the locker room to inspire Big Blue to play in their own stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII.

MLB

Brandon McCarthy finds his calling on Twitter

Yankees starter Brandon McCarthy joined Twitter three year ago for the same reason many people do: to get news quickly.

Sports

NBA great LeBron James sends 800 cupcake apologies…

By Kim PalmerCLEVELAND (Reuters) - NBA star LeBron James, whose recent return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in his home state of Ohio sparked a frenzy…

NFL

Fantasy football: Johnny Manziel could give your running…

Fantasy football: Johnny Manziel could give your running game a boost

Food

Recharge with a post-workout smoothie from Nicky Hilton

Some people can roll out of bed right as their alarm goes off. And that alarm isn’t set for 20 minutes before they have to…

Education

Colleges are increasingly embracing the concept of gender-neutral…

  Northwestern University recently made headlines after announcing that it would be installing two gender-neutral bathrooms in the university's student center. “These are two gender-open…

Career

How to prepare to interview for your dream…

    Congratulations! You landed a job interview at your dream company! A lot of hard work has gone into determining which companies to apply…

Style

The shirtdress is a summer must-have

  We love throwing on our boyfriend’s shirt and a pair of jeans (no matter how much he grumbles that it’s his turn to wear the…