What do you get when you combine the sword-and-sandal battles of "Gladiator," the star-crossed love story of "Titanic" and the apocalyptic spectacle of, say, "2012"? The new movie "Pompeii" explores that very question, and according to film critics, the answer is either a cinematic guilty pleasure or, more likely, a fiery mess.
In one of the more positive reviews, Gary Goldstein writes in The Times, "'Pompeii' accomplishes its ambitious agenda to largely engrossing effect. Sure, it's not the brainiest of outings, but director Paul W.S. Anderson (the man behind four of the 'Resident Evil' films) keeps the action apace and the lava a-flowing with workmanlike energy and sufficient visual dazzle."
"Pompeii" stars "Game of Thrones'" Kit Harington as a Celtic gladiator in the doomed Roman city and Emily Browning as his noblewoman love interest, and Goldstein says they're "at best serviceable," while the dialogue is "frequently too basic." But the whole thing still "succeeds as escapist entertainment."
USA Today's Claudia Puig is less impressed, calling "Pompeii" "a 'Titanic' wannabe with a romance between a rich girl and a poor boy set against a natural disaster. Besides 'Gladiator' and 'Titanic,' the film borrows from '300,' 'Troy,' 'Spartacus,' 'Clash of the Titans' and even 'The Princess Bride.' The result is a generic saga with a cast of forgettable one-dimensional characters."
She adds, "A movie that focused solely on lava showers would quickly grow tepid. But how did it take a team of writers to come up with a bland story cobbled together from previous historical epics?"
The New York Times' Miriam Bale says that Anderson "seems to be without visual focus." She adds, "Though the film's gorgeous color palette resembles burnished jewelry, there is a staleness and overfamiliarity to these early scenes. The film is not even enlivened by the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Waves crash and cliffs collapse, but we know exactly how this ends." Bale sums the film up as "both GIF-ready and campy fun."
NPR's Ian Buckwalter, meanwhile, writes that "Anderson seems to want us to see his film and its hackneyed romance — basically 'Titanic' with swords and sandals — as a serious-minded historical epic. If there were a hint of a sense of play or humor in the filmmaking, beyond a briefly amusing moment of comeuppance for a foppish slaveowner, 'Pompeii' might be a fun February diversion instead of a dull, eye-rolling slog."
Buckwalter also finds the film unintentionally funny, quipping, "The only person in the entire cast who seems remotely aware of the ridiculousness of the whole thing is [Kiefer] Sutherland, who chews scenery like a starving man handed a turkey leg. He certainly had more laughs making it than anyone will watching it; if only he'd let the rest of the cast and crew in on the joke."
The Wrap's Alonso Duralde likewise commends Sutherland's antics, though not much else. He writes, "there aren't enough sacrifice-able virgins in the world to make 'Pompeii' an appeasing offering to the disaster-movie gods. This team-up between the director of 'AVP: Alien vs. Predator' (Paul W.S. Anderson) and the star of 'Sucker Punch' (Emily Browning) is as awful as you feared it might be, although there's at least some camp value in watching Kiefer Sutherland froth at the mouth as a very Billy Zane–like Roman bigwig."
Finally, the San Francisco Chronicle's Mick LaSalle grouses that "Pompeii" lacks compelling characters, and as a result, "you start to root for Mount Vesuvius. In fact, compared to the audience, Vesuvius begins to seem really patient."
That said, "if you want to see disaster effects, 'Pompeii' is the ultimate in one-stop shopping, a combination of the floods in 'The Impossible,' the earthquakes in '2012' and the fireballs of just about every action movie made since 1985. Plus, there are volcanic eruptions, not to mention volcanic ash raining down onto the seats in front of you — or seeming to, in 3-D."
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