By definition, Paul W.S. Anderson is a filmmaker. In my eyes, he’s not a very good filmmaker, but he’s been able to create brainless successes.
His latest blunder Pompeii is by definition “mindless entertainment”. The film follows similar conventions that were used in his Resident Evil adaptations, and he crosses his fingers hoping people will eat it up all the same.
It’s expected people will walk out of Pompeii passively shrugging off the film as “dumb, but passable fare”, and be perfectly indifferent with it. For some reason, knowing that something is going to be “dumb, but passable fare” before going into the movie allows Anderson to do just that and not let down movie goers with those low expectations. It’s how he was able to get away scot-free with most of his action flicks, and why people consider his work “critic proof”.
As I stated in my steaming review of Resident Evil: Retribution, audiences deserve better – even if it is just surface-level escapism. Pompeii is another example of this filmmaker shafting movie goers in every single way, along with an added PG-13 rating restraining Anderson from showing any over-the-top violence.
The movie takes place in 79 A.D. preceding a monumental catastrophe. It’s to no surprise that Anderson’s drowsy directing leads to borrowing beats from more enthralling epics such as Gladiator, Titanic, and miscellaneous disaster movies. It never feels original because of these blatant rip-offs of other popular films. Even so, Anderson can never sell us on his second-hand saga because of how little effort everyone involved has put forth.
Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington takes the role of the film’s brawny protagonist, Milo. He fills out the part physically, but hasn’t done any further work to make this character into anything more than a cardboard standee. This is merely a starring role to test the cinematic waters of whether Harington convinces audiences nationwide that he’s a tough guy on a bigger screen. He may look the part, but with due time, he’ll realize sombre gazes and rippling abs don’t necessarily help develop a character.
The rest of the cast follows along similarly. They’ve been cast based on looks alone. The film’s logic behind its casting is that if you can look attractive while touting a wiry beard or filthy volcanic schmutz on your face, you can be a movie star.
The rest of Pompeii’s production is comparably unsubtle and shoddy. Whether it’s caking make-up onto an increasingly scantily clad Emily Browning as Milo’s love interest, or showing Keifer Sutherland’s credit as he enters the scene articulating a ridiculous accent with overacting theatrics. We’re constantly reminded that this is one big, loud, clumsy movie.
For a film carrying historical content, I at least expected Anderson to impress me with period detail. It appears everyone is costumed in proper garb, but Anderson flatly shot his film as if he’s wanting to emphasize that everything’s been shot indoors on a sound stage. There’s no movie magic here. Just a bunch of clanging effects mounted on top of artificial acting.
It goes to show paying audiences that no one behind Pompeii cared to make a convincing product. The general attitude was apathetic and as static as those inevitable post-screening shrugs.
It’s as if before a day of shooting, Anderson grouped the cast and crew together for a powerpoint rundown of “how to make a by-the-numbers money maker”. It’s a list of steps dancing around the fact that the end product will also be defunct of any legitimacy amongst the reactions on screen and in the audience. But, the filmmaker would remind his team that everyone would collect a hefty paycheque once the turkey was in the can – this would cause a cheerful uproar.
The steps on Anderson’s play-by-play include pausing the film to spill countless pages of spoken exposition, drawn out buddying between Milo and his oppressive cell mate Atticus (played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), and silly romance with forced chemistry in tow between Browning and Harington. Plus, you can’t forget those choppy fight sequences that have been hacked to death by autopiloted editors, and their collection of odd pandering zooms to highlight intensity.
Of course, if you’re going to make a big blockbuster involving lots of flying debris from a natural disaster, it has to be in 3D. If Pompeii’s 3D is what counts as today’s standard for the groundbreaking technology, I’m in the wrong business. Apparently, in the case of Pompeii, all you have to do is make a few ashes float towards the viewer and have credits punch out. With an entire two thirds dedicated to droning dialogue in darkly lit settings, it’s the laziest and most unnecessary use of the technology since Thor.
Pompeii is the junk food everyone knows is loaded with carbs and sugar, but they give in because they’re jonesing for the occasional juicy treat. Trust me, there are better ways for those movie goers to indulge in mindless entertainment. If they’re patient, they can hold out for that movie that understands the trick to trashy thrills. Eager audiences shouldn’t feel the need to count on Paul W.S. Anderson’s stale bargain bin tidbits to get their fill.