Thursday, February 20, 2014

“Pompeii” – Maximus Lite.

I’m going to go into much more detail about this movie in a moment, but for those of you who want a quick and dirty synopsis of Pompeii, imagine if Titanic and Gladiator had a baby and a volcano exploded. When I heard about Pompeii, my first thought was that it would have to be like Titanic in that the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. that buried the city of Pompeii and killed thousands of people would simply be the setting for whatever the real plot would be. The first trailer I saw confirmed this, but also revealed that they might be ripping off Titanic’s story wholesale, as they show the hero running through the streets with who can only be assumed to be a love interest, while dodging flaming rocks. Later trailers added the Gladiator feel to the movie, showing our hero fighting in an arena as a gladiator. After watching the movie, I can safely name that baby Maximus Jr. (emphasis on the junior) as its DNA is clearly more Roman than Jack and Rose.

(Stop reading if you don’t want to read some spoilers, but there really is no way to make my upcoming points without them. I mean, come on – are you really going to see this movie? Really?)

The story begins in Britannia, seventeen years prior to the eruption, where Roman soldiers led by Corvis (Kiefer Sutherland) and his second-in-command, Proculus (Sasha Roiz), are finishing a campaign putting down a rebellion of Celtic horsemen. Young Milo watches the Romans slaughter his family and entire village, eventually becoming the sole survivor of the massacre. He’s captured by, um…some dudes with feet and the movie cuts to 79 A.D. where he’s now an adult gladiator (Kit Harrington, aka John Snow) fighting in a small arena in a distant province of the Roman Empire. Sound familiar yet? No? Maybe? Well…

In his final fight in the po-dunk arena, Milo (known as “The Celt,” which is totally different than “The Spaniard” - *eye roll*) marches out of a gate to face the same set of gladiators Maximus faced (not kidding – they’re even wearing the same armor sets), dispatches them just as quickly and methodically as did Maximus, then marches back out, though without the great line “Are you not entertained?!” Milo’s owner decides to take his champion to the much larger city of Pompeii, hoping to make himself rich. In Pompeii, Milo meets another gladiator who becomes his friend, African warrior Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje). You read that correctly, Milo’s best friend is a black gladiator.

The Gladiator, um…influences (read: outright thefts), continue, including an arena scene depicting Corvis’ great battle where Milo is one of the barbarians. Guess how that one ends (at this point, only Shia LeBouf wouldn’t consider this plagiarism)? Meanwhile, the Titanic storyline is developed featuring Cassia (Emily Browning) as the daughter of a rich family who slowly (well, not too slowly) falls for the poor, but handsome slave/gladiator that is Milo. The rich douche bag, and now senator, Corvis is hell-bent on marrying her. Sure, there are some slight differences from Titanic – Cassia’s family is actually rich (not fake rich) and her parents (Carrie-Anne Moss and Jared Harris) are still married. She also never gets even remotely close to taking her clothes off. Other than that, they’re essentially the same character, but without the depth and development of Rose.

By this point in the movie, I wouldn’t say it’s bad, just derivative to the point that we’re rooting for the volcano to shake things up. Having been to Pompeii and seen museum exhibits, I’m happy to say the film does a very good job recreating the sequence of events of the actual eruption and the ensuing destruction. Unfortunately, we’re distracted by goofy crap like Atticus rescuing a girl who falls on the floor, Milo riding horses around during the chaos (watch for the exact same close-up of Milo on the horse multiple times), and flaming rocks always ju-u-u-ust missing crushing people (it’s PG-13, so you only see the bodies lying around after the impact). For me, the biggest distraction was how often they talk about Cassia’s amazing transcendent beauty, when she can best be described as bony and plain, especially since her hand-maiden, Ariadne (Jessica Lucas), is far more beautiful and completely ignored. To top it off, the 3-D is just as useless as ever and did nothing to enhance the visual spectacle of the eruption (which was done quite well).

Unlike Titanic, in which you are hoping the couple survives the accident, Pompeii’s characters are far too under-developed for you to really care whether or not they survive the eruption. In fact, you’ll probably spend a good portion of the movie trying to guess if anyone survives at all because when it comes to Pompeii, nobody ever talks about the people who survived. And, I promise, when you hear the last line of the movie spoken, you’ll be rooting for that one final rock to crush young Maximus Jr.

Rating: Ask for all but two dollars back. One dollar for learning something about Mt. Vesuvius and Pompeii and the other to see what plagiarism looks like.

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