a critiQal film review Pompeii (2014)

Plot: In 79 A.D., Milo (Harington), a slave turned invincible gladiator, finds himself in a race against time to save his true love Cassia (Browning), the beautiful daughter of a wealthy merchant who has been unwillingly betrothed to a corrupt Roman Senator (Sutherland). As Mount Vesuvius erupts in a torrent of blazing lava, Milo must fight his way out of the arena in order to save his beloved as the once magnificent Pompeii crumbles around him.

451 words (Est. Reading Time 2m 15s)

After a long hiatus from critiQal – which included a move from Maryland to Arizona – it’s time once again to focus on the movies. First up: Pompeii, a personable re-telling of the historical eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed a thriving city in 79 A.D.. Since I’d been out of the loop for a bit, I hadn’t heard much about this film until checking it out from my local cable provider.

Would Pompeii be the awe-inspiring special effects spectacular/human interest story that I was looking for, or would the effects once again overwhelm any acting skills Jack Bauer and the rest of the cast have?

Kit Harington, playing one of the main characters of the film, isn’t immediately recognizable to those of us who haven’t gotten caught up in the “Game of Thrones” (TV) phenomenon. Still, he does a decent job in Pompeii, producing a likeable hero. Emily Browning (Sucker Punch (2011)) also puts in a decent-enough performance in the love interest role, but Kiefer Sutherland (“24” (TV)) and Adewale Akinnuoye Agbaje (G.I. Joe: Retaliation (2013)) easily steal their scenes as The Bad Senator and veteran gladiator, respectively.

It’s also nice to see Carrie-Anne Moss (The Matrix (1999)) still working, since she has been so under-utilized since her star turn a decade ago. Sadly, Pompeii gives her very little to do, since she mostly just has to gape at the injustice around her and smile lovingly at her daughter.

The storyline, sadly, is about as predictable as the inevitable outcome. The film seems, at first, to be an inventive love story set against the historical eruption of Mount Vesuvius. But, as the film goes on, viewers will feel like they’ve already seen this story a thousand times – in everything from A Knight’s Tale to First Knight.

The special effects actually help the story, rather than obliterate it, a trick Hollywood seems to have finally gotten the hang of. While the special effects are spectacular, the characters are never lost amid the fireworks, and the story manages to keep going along even while the massive eruption of Mount Vesuvius rains down from all sides.

While the main characters are semi-entertaining and the special effects are spectacular, the story lacks a bit in originality. Even decent performances by Kiefer Sutherland and Adewale Akinnuoye Agbaje – not to mention the storyline surviving the massive special effects – Pompeii, while entertaining, will give viewers a strong sense of deja vu. Sadly, in a film that is looking to separate itself from the ever-increasing slew of disaster movies available, a strong sense of been-there-done-that isn’t exactly what they are looking for.

While not one of the best disaster movies out there, viewers could do a lot worse than Pompeii.

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