When his entire tribe are slaughtered by the Romans, the last surviving boy, Milo, grows up knowing only death and fighting. Eventually he is transferred to Pompeii where he might fight to the death, as must Atticus, the reigning champion with only one more fight to win his freedom. Milo falls for Cassius: a beautiful well-born girl, little knowing that she has been running from the intense advances of a powerful Roman Senator, Corvus. When Milo recognises Corvus as the man responsible for wiping out his people, he vows to avenge his family. But as Mount Vesuvius starts to rumble ominously, surviving in the arena will soon be the last of Milo’s worries.
Pompeii (2014) – Director: Paul W. S. Anderson
Running Length: 105 mins
Starring: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland
Setting a movie in a real life historical disaster raises the question of whether the event itself will be the story or whether we will be introduced to the doomed lives and society involved, be they fictional or not. Set in the days leading up to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, ‘Pompeii’ avoids both of these approaches and instead delivers a cookie-cutter plot line serving only a tiresome and dull love story, with no sense of the wider society living in this doomed Roman city.
Milo, or ‘The Celt’ (played by Harington) is a one-dimensional character, at best. His motivation is the usual ‘revenge’ fare tempered with an attraction towards Cassia, daughter of a wealthy businessman and otherwise lacking in any character of her own. Milo exists purely to slash and hack away whilst the Gladiator-clone plot trundles along methodically until the explosive third act, when the big budget fireballs come raining spectacularly down. Saving grace is Atticus (Akinnuoye-Agbaje), the reigning champion who only needs one more fight to win his freedom; his strong dignity and rabble-rousing righteousness lights up every scene he is in. Corvus (Sutherland) as antagonist exists to push what plot there is further along and has no character other than ‘villain’.
Whilst the actual eruption itself and the damage wrought is popcorn munching stuff, what Pompeii fails to do is make us care about any of the people who are fleeing for their lives. There is no greater sense of the city of Pompeii; no wider society to mourn, begging the question: why bother making a film about Pompeii at all? This could have been any disaster, anywhere. Taking into account a very violent opening 10 minutes that will probably discount many younger viewers, this is a movie that will only satisfy a destruction quick-fix in teenagers and adults alike.
IS ‘POMPEII’ SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN?
The opening scene shows a child of around 5-7 years old waking up in a tent and going outside to see what has woken him. He sees his tribe under attack by Romans. There is a lot of screaming and swords slashing as the tribe people are cut down ruthlessly. The camera direction picks out what are presumably the boy’s father and mother. The father is stabbed to death and the mother is forced onto her knees with others. They are sobbing and, once the order for their death is given, the mother’s throat is quickly slashed open. We do not see the wound itself but she collapses heavily onto the floor and a there is a close up of her dying face. The boy plays dead only to be lifted and dumped on a pile of corpses. Later, he wanders around the aftermath and sees several dead bodies strung up by their feet in a tree. This scene lasts around 10 minutes and has constant blood splatters (albeit shown very quickly), death and execution.
The second scene shows the boy now fully grown, known as ‘The Celt’. He is a slave fighter in a small provincial arena. The fight features swords inflicting cuts and blood is shown. One assailant is pushed backwards roughly and is impaled on a post covered in metal spikes. One character complains, ‘I was dragged away from a perfectly adequate brothel for this?’
A horse stumbles and collapses, in audible pain. The Celt (‘Milo’) is described as being from a horse tribe and says he can help. However, he decides that it would be best for the horse to kill it, and snaps its neck without warning.
Once moved to a new prison for gladiators, Milo is attacked by several men. During the fight he bites off the end of one’s finger and there is a quick shot of the bloody stump. Later in the movie a dagger is stabbed through someone’s forearm and we see the blade go through.
During some preliminary volcanic activity some ground breaks apart and falls into a precipice, with one minor sympathetic character falling to their death. This is done in a wide shot and no detail is shown.
Milo and Atticus are taken from their cell to a party being attended by the well-born members of society. The purpose of this is so that rich women can pay to grope them. Atticus has his backside fondled and one women expresses a desire to see his ‘weaponry’.
During the eruption of Vesuvius there is much death and destruction. A section of a large, packed amphitheatre collapses, presumably killing all the attendees. Rocks fall from the sky and crush the heads of people running. This is very quick and they are simply smacked out of frame with no gore. Some people are seen running whilst on fire. One character is consumed by lava and a burning outline is lingered upon for around 10 seconds
CAN I SEE A CLIP?
The frenzied final act is exciting viewing, but until Vesuvius explodes, there is not much but rumbling and smoke on display from ‘Pompeii’. With a mostly bland cast and non-existent story, it is clear that the volcano is the real star of the show and, once the black smoke starts streaming, a visual treat is delivered. However, this is an adult toned action film and, due to the large level of constant violence, we would not recommend that this movie is appropriate for kids aged under 12 years old.
- Violence: 5/5
- Emotional Distress: 3/5
- Fear Factor: 2/5 (the eruption of Vesuvius heralds a long tense section of film with many people fleeing for their lives)
- Sexual Content: 1/5
- Bad Language: 1/5 (occasional minor cursing)
- Dialogue: 1/5
- Other notes: Deals with themes of natural disaster, slavery, fighting to the death, the politics of power and money and revenge.
Words by Mike Record