Pompeii fictionalizes the historical events of Pompeii to set the scene for a gladiator/disaster movie hybrid. We are introduced to a young Celt whose entire people are wiped out by the Romans for blocking a trade route. The boy hides while this happens and once the Romans leave he walks off and gets captured by slave traders who sell him to be a Gladiator. The story jumps forward 15 years and the Celt is shown as a ruthless Gladiator fighting in a lower arena. He gets seen by a high ranking official and taken to Pompeii to fight in a larger arena.
The first point to make on this film is that it is split into two distinct parts:
Gladiator: The opening scenes of Pompeii are very similar to those of Gladiator (2000). The same slave to champion symbolism is used, portraying the Celt as the Savior, the one who will change the system. A system which is corrupt, ruled by men who are out for their own greed and power. The first hour of the film is Gladiator-esque but not as well structured as Gladiator.
Volcano Disaster: The second-half of Pompeii shows the volcano erupting and the panic of the people of Pompeii. It’s similar to many disaster films in the sense that the protagonist has to get somewhere fast, in the opposite direction of where he should be heading. The premise for this is fairly weak and it would have been good to see a stronger reasoning for him to go back. The CGI used for this sequence is far better than other disaster films made and the scope of destruction is impressively displayed.
The historical elements are inaccurate. The film shows Pompeii as a huge city, rivaling that of Rome. Historians and census’ from the time have shown there was little more than 16,000 people living in Pompeii. From the arena scene it looks like there are far more than this just in the arena alone. The volcano’s black poisonous gas killed everyone quickly, it didn’t create the destruction, flying rocks and tsunami’s shown in the film. Point being, the film should not be taken as anything historically accurate, but a fictional story set in a real time and place.
Kit Harrington plays the Celt in Pompeii and is characterized as the strong but silent type. He flourishes in Game of Thrones as he holds a fairly minor role, but in Pompeii he is the lead and it’s clear his acting qualities aren’t yet strong enough to pull off a project of this magnitude. The most experienced cast member is Kiefer Sutherland, playing the corrupt Roman Senator who terrorizes protagonists. His performance is average at best as he tries to put on a Roman accent that sounds more British than anything. The rest of the cast are fairly minor and don’t add much to the film.
Not knowing too much about the film going in, the title alluded that the film would be a disaster movie based on a true story. Naming the film Pompeii brought about connotations that really hurt the film, I was constantly comparing everything to my knowledge of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius which distracted from the actual film. The second half of the film was much stronger than the first and I would have preferred to replace the Gladiator sequence with one that better developed the characters and their relationship.
1st half 2/5 – 2nd half 3.5/5
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Check out more on Pompeii at www.imdb.com/title/tt1921064/