Stop What You Are Doing And Go See Pompeii

There are no major spoilers. Unless you haven’t seen any Pompeii previews. Or read National Geographic. Or ridden Escape from Pompeii at Busch Gardens Williamsburg.


I saw Pompeii (2014) at an advance screening in DC last week. In short, this movie is ridiculous, and you should go and see it as soon as you can get your pants on. Not your nice pants. Your comfy pants. And sit in one of the floor rows. This movie is best seen comfortably, with lots of salty and sugary snacks, in a seat you can lean back in.

The first thing worth mentioning in Pompeii is the writing, specifically the lack of character development. There are only two “archetypes” in Pompeii: Good Guy and Bad Guy. What are the Good Guys’ motivations? To be good. What are the Bad Guys’ motivations? To be bad. Oh, okay. The only character with any complexity is ‘Atticus,’ played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who I have to imagine wandered onto the set from a slightly better movie and everyone was just too impressed to say anything. (As an aside: who represents Carrie-Anne Moss? Second billing? Whoever her people are really worked that shit out.)

On top of the black-and-white morality, Pompeii would have us believe that Milo (the hero) and Cassia (the damsel) have a kind of love(? lust? crush? spiritual connection?) strong enough for Milo to risk his life to save hers, and that has developed over two encounters totaling…mmm, about fifteen minutes. When the movie was over I just had one question I asked everyone: were they supposed to be in love? It’s difficult to discern, and in fact, no one could give me an answer. The trouble is that Kit Harrington and Emily Browning made the interesting choice to give their characters zero emotional expression. If you bought your ticket looking for facial or tone variance from the leading man and and love interest, I’ve got some bad news. If you just came for the volcano, relax. Spoiler Alert: it erupts.

The hero asks a horse to sit. Like a dog. And it does.

Jessica Lucas’ chest should have gotten third billing, it’s featured so prominently.

A ship is carried through the streets of Pompeii by a tsunami. That ship is on fire. Are your goddamn pants on, yet?

For all I’ve written up to this point, it must also be restated: I think this movie was great. I could go on and on about it. Mostly it’s a game of curbing your expectations. It’s 100% B-movie. But, once your nose adjusts to the kind of film you’re watching, it’s a really an enjoyable ride.

Very little of it makes sense, but my God, it is confident! I was never bored, and for 104 minutes running time, I gotta say the time flew by. In contrast, it’s clear when you watch something where no one involved believed in the project. (10,000 BC rings a bell. You getting a paycheck doesn’t need to coincide with me getting the film-equivalent of a 109-minute middle finger.) So anytime a film commits to itself, it’s impossible to hate. Pompeii commits. Hard. And in those moments when it looks like it’s teetering on eye-rollingly ridiculous or annoyingly campy, the volcano just erupts some more.

Oh yeah, guys, a volcano erupts in this movie. GO SEE THIS MOVIE.

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