First of all, I kind of like Paul W. S. Anderson’s work. Resident Evil? Awesome. Alien vs Predator? Surprisingly not terrible. Of course, for every cheesily enjoyable Mortal Kombat, there’s a Three Musketeers out there to remind you that even schlock-masters can have an off day.
Second of all, I love volcano movies. I’m the guy that actually kind of liked Volcano. I’m the guy who loved Dante’s Peak.
So, all the negative reviews in the world weren’t going to keep me from seeing Pompeii. And I did. And while it wasn’t awesome, it was entirely enjoyable. And, surprisingly, the volcano is really just a third act complication. I mean, yeah, it’s a really cool third act complication, but the various plot balls don’t stop their juggling just because of some fiery explosions and a poorly motivated tidal wave. And those balls were actually interesting to me.
Was the opening perhaps a little too reminiscent of Conan the Barbarian? Sure. But having Jon Snow be all revengy because of his parents’–actually, his whole tribe’s–deaths gives the character something to strive for. I actually like that he isn’t on a quest his whole life. He just kind of stumbles upon the killers. Up until then, Jon is just kind of being angry and killing people as a slave gladiator. There’s an immediate bond of mutual respect when he meets Mr. Eko and is told they have to fight to the death the next day. That relationship is probably the most resonant in the whole film. Eko, the most formidable gladiatorial champion in Pompeii, has this fantasy of earning his freedom from slavery with this one final bout. Jon–relying pretty much only on an essentially racist hatred of Romans–tells him he’s deluding himself. (Can you guess which of them will turn out to be right?)
The relationship you’re supposed to be rooting for is, of course, Jon and Violet Beaudelaire. I mean, how could they not want to be together forever when they realize they’re the only two people in 79 AD who know you have to put down a lame horse. Romance!
Ah, but the plot balls keep on multiplying. Violet’s dad, Old Will Robinson, has grand plans for Pompeii Mark II, which will have an aqueduct, and a new arena, and probably fiber optic internet if Comcast doesn’t have a say. His best and only hope for the funding of this project is to schmooze Jack Bauer, a visiting senator from Rome. Jack has a history with Violet, and in fact, it seems his creepy, almost-cradle-robbing attempts at “romance” were the main reason Violet came home early. This storyline gets points for not going the route that you would expect, where Old Will Robinson tells Violet she has to marry Jack, or Violet’s mom, Trinity, tells her it’s best she have a powerful husband. No, when Jack says, “I’ll fund your municipal improvement project because you promised me Violet in marriage,” Old Will Robinson is all, “Say whaaaaat?” and Trinity is all, “Old Will Robinson, you should kill Jack Bauer!” Which hundreds of dead terrorists know is way harder than it sounds.
Now, throughout the film, there are occasional hiccups from Vesuvius (which, interestingly, is never once actually mentioned by name in the film). The best one is when, during a dramatic moment in a gladiator fight, Jack says it’s Vulcan blessing something or other. That Jack Bauer is a wily one. This is also the scene that I’m sure fans of Gladiator (or, in other words, all moviegoers except my brother) might get a little steamed by. They crib the “have the slaves reenact a battle from history and have them not be defeated and then have someone say ‘hey, that’s not what happened!'” Because, you know, funny. But I give them a pass because the battle in question is the one from the opening of the film, and the guy being feted is Jack, and one of the slaves is Jon, and wow, bad timing Old Will Robinson! Jon gets Eko to help turn the tables on the “Romans”, and it’s a pretty awesome fight scene, I say.
There are some other good fights, too. One where Jon fights Captain Renard, but that fight gets cut short by Vulcan. Then Renard has to fight Eko. That one was pretty cool.
So, yeah, everyone (except the actual Brits) puts on a doofy “Roman” accent which sounds suspiciously like they’re from Londonium and not, you know, Italy. And, yeah, Jon and Violet’s romance is a little rushed. And Jack hams it up a bit, but I didn’t mind, because Jon was all blue steel the whole movie, so it balanced out. The effects were great, the 3D was not headache-inducing, and the finale was just over-the-top enough to make everything that led up to it seem to almost make sense.
So, thumbs up! (Which I’m using in the sense of good, not in the possible sense of “death”, since the historical record is unclear, and if Gladiator can get it wrong, so can Pompeii, am I right?)