British director Paul WS Anderson (Resident Evil) embraces the hoary cliches of the disaster movie with this unintentionally amusing swords and sandals epic set in the shadow of a grumbling Mount Vesuvius.
Not since the summer of 1997, when Dante’s Peak and Volcano went head-to-head at the box office, has the fiery wrath of Mother Nature been unleashed with such pyrotechnic-laden fury.
Anderson certainly understands the mechanics of an outrageous action sequence and he engineers some humdingers as fiery rocks rain down on Pompeii’s stricken inhabitants.
A prolonged climax expertly cuts together aerial shots of devastation with close-ups of the scantily clad cast falling victim to magma and a tsunami, systematically cutting off the various escape routes until the only option left is to run.
As the city tumbles to its corrupt foundations, the three scriptwriters insist on finding reasons for the two-dimensional characters to delay their exodus.
Consequently, one gladiatorial slave tells his pal, “I’ll get the horses,” and heads to the stables, which were ready to collapse before the first rumble from Vesuvius.
A prologue set in Northern Britannia AD62 introduces a boy called Milo (Dylan Schombing), who witnesses the murder of his parents at the hands of corrupt Roman senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) and sadistic henchman Proculus (Sasha Roiz).
Seventeen years later, Milo (now played by Kit Harington) has blossomed into a merciless killing machine in the gladiatorial arena.
He catches the eye of slave master Graecus (Joe Pingue), who seeks a worthy opponent for undefeated champion Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) at the forthcoming games in Pompeii.
Milo is dragged to the ill-fated city where his rock hard abs induce a lusty swoon in Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of wealthy merchant Severus (Jared Harris) and his wife Aurelia (Carrie-Anne Moss).
Unfortunately, Corvus has his beady eye on Cassia and the scheming senator demands her hand in marriage in return for Pompeii’s rejuvenation under Emperor Titus. As the games begin, Vesuvius erupts and Milo and Atticus use their physical prowess to escape with terrified Cassia in tow.
Fittingly, Pompeii is built on the shaky foundations of a ramshackle script that doesn’t flesh out any of the characters in any sufficient detail to make us care about their fates.
Harington sports a sweat-glistened six-pack that will make gym bunnies weep with envy but he is unable to deliver any of his clunky lines with conviction.
Browning simpers while Sutherland merrily chews scenery, wolfishly telling Cassia, “Beauty like yours has no place in a holiday resort like this.”
Action scenes are both thrilling and hilariously preposterous and the romantic subplot twixt Milo and Cassia falls woefully short of the sweeping tragedy of Titanic to which Anderson evidently aspires.