'Pompeii' Review: A Volcanic Explosion Of Garbage
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'Pompeii' Review: A Volcanic Explosion Of Garbage

By TK | Film Reviews | February 21, 2014 | Comments ()


I have now reviewed four Paul W.S. Anderson films since 2010. That unfortunate list includes the last two Resident Evil films and a wretched adaptation of The Three Musketeers. Last week, I was forced to submit myself to the mercy of his newest massively budgeted, ineptly directed, dead-eyed ode to human indignity, Pompeii. This is a film whose Wikipedia page states that they spent six years researching the event to ensure historical fidelity, yet apparently no time was spent learning how to make a movie that doesn’t make me want to hurl a chair through the screen.

Not content with strip-mining video game franchises, remakes and classic novels, Anderson has decided to get in on the disaster porn genre, and the misbegotten Pompeii is the result. This wayward, ill-conceived, and idiotically executed bit of melodrama rampages through anything resembling the facts surrounding the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, as if history is a plate glass window that Anderson can drunkenly careen through, and then put back together using discarded newsprint and packing tape, and somehow passing it off as truth. It’s an awful film that borrows heavily from ignominious junk-classics such as Titanic, The Day After Tomorrow, and Dante’s Peak, a trio of hilariously bad inspirations if there ever were any.

The story begins with the slaughter of a tribe of Celts at the hands of the conniving Roman General Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland, using a truly heinous English accent for some reason). The lone survivor is a child who is promptly kidnapped by slavers, and seventeen years later, we meet him again in the form of the gladiator Milo, enslaved and fighting in the pits of London. I would like to repeat: the main character is a gladiator named after either a chocolate malt beverage, or a precocious fictional tabby cat, so let’s all suck on that for a few seconds. Regardless, Milo (Kit Harrington, aka Jon Snow from Game Of Thrones) is such a badass that he’s shipped to Pompeii so that he can do bloody battle on a larger stage. There he meets the lovely Cassia (Emily Browning), the daughter of the local merchant/patriarch Lucretius, in a meet cute that involves him snapping her horse’s neck. Yeah, you read that right. Later, when he’s being prostituted to wealthy Romans, her other horse gets scared, and he ducks his head endearingly, and the horse calms down. He rides off with Cassia, and apparently they fall in love after spending 20 minutes together.

Welcome to Pompeii, ladies and gentlemen. Spoiler alert: Everybody dies. Non-spoiler alert: You won’t care.

Eventually, Milo is forced to return to the gladiator ring and makes friends with the mighty champion Bridgageous (!), a captured African who is his sworn enemy for five minutes until they club each other with wooden sticks during practice, which results in a blossoming bromance. Thereafter, they share Very Important Dialogue about freedom and honor. Also, in a stunning coincidence, a Roman general is there to woo Cassia and meet on something about a deal about aquaducts, and SHOCKER it’s Kiefer Sutherland and his pathetic poncy accent. During this time, the volcano has been smoldering and rumbling in as menacing a fashion as a CGI mountain is capable, and no one cares. It then erupts, kills a bunch of people, the gladiators fight their way to freedom (the gladiator angle is basically low-rent Spartacus mixed with Gladiator, then hit in the temple with a hammer), and eventually everyone is thrown into the air or burned or is trampled to death.

I wish I could give you a more well-written summary, but the problem is that it’s not a well-written film. At all. It is abysmal, filled with cliché, rote, one-note characters, telegraphed plot twists, and some truly dreadful CGI disaster effects. It’s a 105-minute movie about a volcano, and the first 60 minutes is a hackneyed Titanic wannabe that was practically begging for a Celine Dion cameo. Harrington and Browning have no chemistry — Browning gapes coquettishly at him when she isn’t grimacing, while he sets his glassy-eyed stare to “smolder,” yet there isn’t a single believable moment between them (see the header pic? It’s exactly that, for an hour and 45 minutes). Sutherland seems to be having a good time, but poor Jared Harris and Carrie Ann-Moss — as Cassia’s beleaguered parents — seem to be fully aware of the terrible mistake they’ve made, and both of them spend the duration of the film acting like they’ve swallowed something truly unpleasant. The shortest straw is forced upon the terrific Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje as Bridgageous (I really just can’t with that name), who is relegated to being a noble savage/mystical negro/wise counselor in one of the most insulting roles I’ve seen in a long time. It’s a giant, meaty, bloody chunk of stereotype, and I feel like we should send him a fruit basket or something. He juts his jaw and delivers sage wisdom while flexing muscles and then finally sacrifices himself so that Milo can go off an save Cassia, culminating in him screaming “I DIE A FREE MAN!” at a wall of fire as it consumes him.

Yeah. That’s the kind of movie this is.

The eruption itself is a stupendously overwrought affair, with Anderson spending the bulk of his time directing, with painstaking detail, what a good friend of mine once termed “people tossing.” Popularized by Peter Jackson in the Lord of the Rings movies, a number of directors take great joy in flinging large numbers of people into the air, and that’s where Pompeii really excels. Fireballs are hurled into the city, smashing buildings and destroying roads, seas swell, boats are tossed this way and that, and there is magnificent people tossing to be seen. People are thrown all over the place, flung high and low and into things and while on fire and to Paul W.S. Anderson, that is storytelling. And some audience members ate that shit up, gasping and covering their mouths with their hands, and those people should be thrown into traffic.

Paul W.S. Anderson has made a lot of really bad movies, and a couple of not-bad-but-not-good movies as well. This is neither. Pompeii is hatefully atrocious, guilty of gathering a horrible mix of the worst cinematic ingredients — a dimwitted, nonsensical, sexless romance, lazy storytelling, hyper-edited and clunky combat scenes, a gleeful yet laughably unthreatening villain, boring CGI, and a lazy racial ignorance — and dumping them all into one giant shlockpot. It’s a plodding, joyless, artless picture, and in the final moments, when Cassia and Milo share their first and only kiss — a deep, disturbingly tongue-slathering affair with a fake inferno raging in the background, I almost clapped my hands out of some sort of absurdist deference. It’s utterly ridiculous in every way, right up until the flames consume them and the credits roll. There is not one redeeming quality to Pompeii, and while it’s early (and I haven’t seen A Winter’s Tale), it’s a hands-down contender for worst film of the year.

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Comments Are Welcome, Bigots and Trolls Are Not

  • general rhubarb

    Times like these I REALLY miss Pookie.

  • hapl0

    First of all, hahaha for the article's title.

    The following is my own reaction on Facebook right after watching it:

    Holy shitballs Pompeii was bad.
    I knew the movie was going to suck when Jack Bauer showed up on a horse.

    And Carrie-Anne Moss came back for this? Does she read her script anymore or is it like, as long as I don't have to do splits like in The Matrix, I'm in?

    Apparently, all you need to do to make a movie these days is select a bunch of good movies, write them down on poker cards, shuffle and walla! you have a script.

    I liked this movie better when it was called Spartacus, The Gladiator, Volcano, 300, Troy, The Day After Tomorrow and 2012.

    Zero chemistry between Jon Snow and Violet Baudelaire. And she be way too white for this. I was actually ogling her PA the entire time.

    Also, would it kill them to let the hero's black buddy and the heroine's colored assistant survive for once?

    I think dats it. Yup. I'm happy again and I will be able to sleep tonite.



  • Blake Shrapnel

    Does the song "Pompeii" by Bastille ever get played in this film? A few months ago I was under the impression that it was a marketing tie-in but now I'm not sure.

  • duckandcover

    Good gracious, Bridgageous. (I don't know how it's pronounced and I don't really want to find out.) I haven't enjoyed a Paul W.S. Anderson movie since Mortal Kombat in 1995.

  • e jerry powell

    TK, I have to make a trip to IKEA over the weekend. Shall I pick up some chairs for you to throw while I'm there? As long has Anderson keeps making movies, you're gonna need them. And you don't even have to assemble them, you can just throw the parts at the screen.

  • So it's exactly what I thought it would be. Good to know. Avoidance continued.

  • damnitjanet

    And I am again reminded of why I love TK

  • I usually consider these comments a bit "ass-kissy"...BUT...then this...
    "Those people should be thrown into traffic." That statement just touched my soul in a beautiful way.

  • Dennis Albert Ramirez

    you obviously did not do the research for this article. everyone knows the only movies Paul W. S. Anderson did are Event Horizon, Mortal Kombat and Punch Drunk Love.

    get it together, TK

  • You obviously did not do the research for this comment, as you don't know the difference between Paul W. S. Anderson (who did NOT direct 'Punch Drunk Love') and Paul Thomas Anderson (who DID direct it along with 'Magnolia', 'There Will Be Blood', 'Boogie Nights', and 'The Master'.)

    get it together, DAR

  • Dennis Albert Ramirez

    though to be fair, when i wrote that, it was like a fantastic inside joke that worked with myself, and i keep forgetting there are other people on Pajiba and not just extensions of my consciousness.

    i accept my joke fail.

  • Dennis Albert Ramirez

    i was kidding!

  • Yocean

    Hey hey, Milo is my nephew's name (after the tabby cat) but anyways... I wanted to make movie about Pompeii for a long while and am bummed this shitty one got made and would sour studio on the subject. I'm curious. Did they even go into memento Miri aspect of their philosophy?

  • Maddy

    It makes me sad that Emily Browning has been reduced to being in this movie. I guess it can't be any worse than Sucker Punch

  • TK

    Having seen and reviewed both, I am loathe to admit that this is, in fact, worse than Sucker Punch.

  • Sean

    Sucker Punch was at least technically competent. It was vile morally, and extremely badly acted(except Scott Glen. He can do no wrong). I actually thought Pomeii was a diaster movie parody when I saw the trailer the first time.

  • elsie_the_first

    "Bridgageous (!)"

    I have to know.... How is this pronounced?

  • Ozioma

    In my head, it sounds like the more erudite cousin of 'Bodacious' and now I want to watch the first Bill & Ted movie again.

  • anikitty

    Anyone else ever confuse Paul W.S. Anderson with Wes Anderson? Me either.

  • Paul Anderson's movies have their drawbacks, but they are much less likely to make me want to put a gun to my head so that I can, for a split second when I pull the trigger, finally hear something other the world's most preciously twee dialogue.

  • Aziraphale_3000

    There is nothing better than reading an angry, snarky Pajiba review over my morning coffee.


  • Maydays

    My 8yo loves all things Titanic, the "I Survived" book series, and has moved on to Pompeii in the children's nonfiction section. We indulge, as this is the same beloved child who said "What's a Bieber?". I took her to see the Pompeii exhibit, and she's been begging to see this movie. So we had a very weird discussion which went something like, "Some people like movies that aren't really stories, they are just noisy pictures where a lot of stuff blows up and you don't get to know anyone. Even though the real story of Pompeii is very, very interesting, this is going to be one of those movies where stuff just blows up. It's not going to be a real story." "Why do people like those movies?" "I have no idea."

  • Billybob

    "Not one redeeming quality"? As in, not even shirtless Jon Snow?

    Also, just to be clear - this means there is no chance of the Robert Harris novel ever being filmed, right?

  • el_mediocre

    TK, where is the Death Race remake on your scale of W.S. Anderson films?

  • Afferbeck

    I haven't had a milo in ages, I'm going to go make one now.

  • BWeaves

    "I would like to repeat: the main character is a gladiator named after either a chocolate malt beverage, or a precocious fictional tabby cat, so let’s all suck on that for a few seconds. "

    You forgot the butt-demon, Bad Milo.


    "Eventually, Milo is forced to return to the gladiator ring, and also makes friends with the mighty champion Bridgageous (!) a captured African who is his sworn enemy for five minutes until they club each other with wooden sticks during practice which results in a blossoming bromance."

    Soooo, is "wooden sticks" a euphemism for "wooden sticks?" (wink wink nudge nudge)

  • Billybob

    It could be Milo of Croton. And if they showed any sign of having paid attention to their vaunted historical research, I would give them the benefit of the doubt. But they didn't, so I'm going with someone being a big Milo Ventimiglia fan.

  • Anna von Beav

    He's also a boy who just didn't know what to do with himself-not just sometimes, but always. When he was in school he longed to be out, and when he was out he longed to be in.

  • BlackRabbit

    Damn you for making that excellent quote ahead of me! And I salute you for doing it!

  • Anne At Large

    I came down here just to check for the Phantom Tollbooth shoutout, you are awesome.

  • alannaofdoom

    Me too! I was losing faith in humanity, but, lo! Anna von Beav has redeemed us!

  • Anna von Beav

    *curtseys prettily*

  • Mrs. Julien

    Wood that that were true.

  • emmalita

    And Milo Minderbinder from Catch-22

  • I'm not saying you have to see it. In fact, you probably shouldn't.

    But if you are, isn't this the kind of movie that needs to be seen on the massive IMAX screen/biggest screen you can find? With the loudest sound system available?

    Because seeing this movie at home, even with a good home setup, isn't going to be worth it at all.

  • TK

    I saw it on an IMAX 3D screen. It just makes it hurt more.

  • So even the disaster porn is insufferable and bad?

    What's the point of this movie again??

  • TK


  • Uriah_Creep


    But isn't that essentially your raison d'être?

  • Salieri2

    I can't hear that without thinking of Nathan Arizona yelling at the feds.

    "That's your forte, ain't it? Chasing down crooks and Commies and shit. That's your whole God-damn raison d'etre, ain't it?
  • Uriah_Creep

    Great movie.

    "Edwina's insides were a rocky place where my seed could find no purchase."

  • Mrs. Julien

    Like you need any help with that.

  • unpious

    But then his hate spills out in a pyroclastic flow of a review that instantly obliterates the movie. Preserved for all time on the Internet, two thousand years from now people will visit this site and think "that poor bastard, what a way to go."

  • blasterion

    It always hurts when they pull crap like that, because you just know that an amazing, powerful movie could be made about Pompeii -- dramatized but respectful of history. I guess I'll have to content myself with re-watching "Rome". :-(

  • Linda Lupos

    I'm just gonna rewatch the Dr Who episode The Fires of Pompeii, and then Rome, yeah.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    "Vesuvius erupts, they all die. The end." Brilliant.

    Disaster movies are a waste of time and money.

  • MILO. I LOVE THAT SO FUCKING MUCH. I might have to watch this now!

    Paul W.S. Anderson has made a lot of really bad movies, and a couple of not-bad-but-not-good movies as well. This is neither.

    That's your Poster Quote right there.

  • dizzylucy

    If I've learned nothing else from Pajiba in the past few days, it's that between this and Winter's Tale, it's an odd time to be a horse in Hollywood.

  • cruzzercruz

    I hate this movie for existing and I feel for you, having to suffer through it. But, you used "truly heinous" as a descriptor twice. Somehow, that took me out of the article.

  • jollies

    He was clearly worried someone might make the mistake of thinking this movie was falsely heinous...

  • Maddy

    I assumed this would be historically inaccurate, but even I can't believe how ridiculous this sounds.

  • Paul W.S. Anderson's best movies are still Mortal Kombat and Event Horizon, and those movies came out damn near 20 years ago.

  • e jerry powell

    Event Horizon was a giant turd. A shiny turd, but a turd nonetheless. I am always glad to forget that Joely Richardson was in it. Vanessa Redgrave's freaking daughter!

  • lowercase_ryan

    omg I feel so old...

  • Ha, I know. I saw MK at the theater for my 12th birthday and at that point in my life, it was the greatest thing I had ever seen.

  • Dennis Albert Ramirez

    yeah i was about the same age, and i remember the trailer for it came out with Dumb and Dumber, and i seriously went to watch Dumb and Dumber FIVE times just to see the MK trailer.

    this was pre-internet, of course, or like, super early, 36k modem internet

  • Uriah_Creep

    OOh, a fast modem!

  • I still like it for it's B-movie crapfest it is.

    Which, really, is where Paul WS Anderson should stay. When he makes B-movie fare (Mortal Kombat, Event Horizon, Death Race) he makes fun stuff that plays great when you're drunk or bored.

    When he tries for more, he fails like Kit Harrington emoting.

  • Couldn't agree more. Event Horizon can still scare the hell out of me, even all these years later.

  • Salieri2

    The future MrSalieri2 and I walked out of Sphere in disgust at the scrambled egg scene, went to his place, rented Event Horizon instead. About the first nearly-wordless conversation we ever had: "?" "!"

    So it's sort of a sentimental favorite of ours.

  • Ozioma

    Jon Snow still knows nothing, especially about how to pick projects to ensure he's still employable post-Game of Thrones.

  • freetickles

    Lucky for him he's still got a good chunk of years to go on GoT so he doesn't need to think that far ahead and can just enjoy making some money in the meantime.

  • Considering he seems to have the acting range of a sad potato, I can't blame him for taking what he can get while he can get it.

  • zeke_the_pig

    And we've already got a charming potato. I'm not sure we've got room for a sad one.

  • BlackRabbit

    Charming Potato vs. Downcast Spud

  • Danar the Barbarian

    He can play Sad Keanu's son?

  • Bert_McGurt

    In : Bitter & Sad's Truly Depressing Adventure.

  • Mrs. Julien

    In the most anti-incendiery acting combination since Patrick Swayze and... Keanu Reeves.

  • Danar the Barbarian

    To extinguish the fire in your lions, may we present Sad Keanu and his son Sad Potato!

  • emmalita

    As long as they don't talk, they will still make someone's lions roar.

  • Mrs. Julien

    Lionfire, the new cologne from Coty.

  • e jerry powell


  • eag46

    TK, can we send you a fruit basket for having to review this movie?

  • Formerly Known as Melody


    2. To the best of my knowledge, and I have a background in art history specializing in ancient Rome, Pompeii was a lovely resort for the wealthy to relax and didn't HAVE A TRUMPED UP BS GLADIATOR RING.



  • chanohack

    Here's a pretty cool picture we took of the arena at Pompeii (with Vesuvius in the background!), if anybody's interested. It's difficult to get a sense of scale, but the arena definitely exists, and it's not tiny.

  • e jerry powell

    See, now I have to geek out. My first research project in elementary school was Greek amphitheaters.

  • chanohack

    TOTALY with you on the pyroclastic flow (UGGGGGGGG those idiots), but I've visited Pompeii and it does have a pretty large gladiator arena that is really well-preserved (mostly because it was buried for so long). The wikipedia page on it is kind of lame, but check it out: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A...

  • TK

    Well, if this movie is to be believed, it shouldn't be preserved at all, since it was completely destroyed by ALL THE FUCKING RAINING FIREBALLS.

  • chanohack

    I'm sorry for what you've been through, TK. :(

  • TK

    Oh don't worry, I have to see the 300 sequel next. I'm sure that'll be good.

    /uncontrollable sobbing

  • Maddy

    This is amazing. I've been to Pompeii, and it's been a while since I did Ancient History at school, but I don't remember anything about a gladiator ring. Also - why is he called Milo? I don't think I can watch this movie because the dumb movie director decided random balls of flame and lava killed everyone instead of the actually terrifying gas. If lava destroyed everything in Pompeii, than there wouldn't be anything left and we wouldn't know about it because it wouldn't be preserved and ..... I'm just going to try and forget that Jon Snow was involved in this.

  • Classic

    LMAO I love your whole post.

  • Afferbeck

    I bet everyone was wearing leather bracelets for no reason

  • Classic

    Am I the only one who ever wonders did the Romans have the ability to make leather or anything with buckles at that particular time in history?

  • LOL

  • TK

    Nailed it in one. SO MANY STRAPS AND BUCKLES.

  • Salieri2

    Rob Liefeld again?

  • Mrs. Julien

    Other than that they look AWESOME!

  • loo shag brolley

    Can't wait to work "pyroclastic flow" into my everyday conversation, which will work best in about... ten days.

  • unpious

    "My flow is frickin' pyroclastic this month"?

  • e jerry powell

    Kotex can't help with that.

  • Uriah_Creep

    That sounds really, really painful.

  • Mrs. Julien

    You're a pyroclastic flow!

    Done and done!

  • How do you miss the pyroclastic flows? I mean, the whole "Pompeii's citizens encased in ash as they died" is a result of that!

  • Formerly Known as Melody

    RIGHT? Everyone died because the pyroclastic flow and the heat basically seared the people's lungs and everyone died in horrific pain. That's if you weren't crushed to death by rocks or ash or all the other terrible effects of a pyroclastic flow.

  • Maddy

    But fireballs! Explosions! Who needs historical accuracy ...

  • When the Pompeii exhibit was doing the national tour, I got a chance to see it in Houston. Really effecting to see the casts made out of the dead bodies trapped in ash.

    BTW, shouldn't Emily Browning be a married woman (if we're being all historically accurate and what not)? She's of birthing age and has good hips. You mean they didn't find a way to have her married to Kiefer Sutherland?

  • Mrs. Julien

    Yes, but the laws of cinema physics dictate that heat sources are non-radiant and therefore only dangerous when in direct contact with skin.

  • Salieri2

    Thus everybody hangs out directly above the Fires of Mount Doom without even getting a little moisture-induced Jheri Curl, much less seared lungs.

  • jollies

    This paricular law of cinema is seared into my brain (see what I did?) by Independence Day, where Will Smith's girlfriend, her child, and her amazing flying dog evaded a near-atomic-scale blast and fireball by mere inches by ducking into a subway service tunnel.

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