Of “Game of Thrones” fame and particularly notable for knowing nothing, Jon Snow – that is, Kit Harington – turns a Roman leaf in “Pompeii,” the historical-fiction account of one of history’s most tragic and apocalyptic natural disasters. Instead of being a straightaway disaster film, the movie includes a revenge plot and a love plot behind the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius, humanizing the tragedy.
Unfortunately, things go quickly wrong when a sloppily edited sequence opens the film. While the protagonist Milo (Kit Harington) is still a child, the corrupt Roman senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland) and his men slaughter Milo’s parents and his entire village. Yet in the sincere moments of what should be a heartbreaking scene, we are not allowed a second to see the boy’s sorrow, quickly cutting away to something else far less important. Small moments like these rob the audience of the chance to feel much sympathy for Milo.
Now a slave-turned-gladiator seventeen years later, Milo awaits his chance to slay Corvus as he battles for the entertainment of powerful Roman folk in the resort town of Pompeii. He then falls in love with the beautiful
Cassia (Emily Browning) and she returns the favor. However, Corvus plans to marry the young woman. And while all of this happens, Mt. Vesuvius grumbles in the distance.
And in deep contrast to the mighty volcano, the struggles and preoccupations of Milo fall just short of reaching a heroic stature. His noble efforts to avenge his family and rescue his love play second fiddle to Mt. Vesuvius. The shadow of the volcano looms over him.
Essentially, “Pompeii” is the young romance of “Titanic” and the brutal battles of "Gladiator" mashed together, with a natural disaster coming in and screwing up everyone's plans. Just like the doomed seafarer, it becomes difficult to enjoy “Pompeii” knowing that disaster will soon strike the city. Instead of being a ticking clock that makes anxious us with suspense, Mt. Vesuvius becomes the event we want to see, just because we want to finish the movie already. A lack of emotional investment in the characters results in a lack of interest in the movie.
“Pompeii” isn’t sure whether it wants to be a drama or a disaster movie, so it chooses two targets and hits neither of them. The big-budget visual effects deliver its promised eye candy, but without a firmly grounded story to warrant them, the effects flare and dazzle in vain. And with Jon Snow vs. Jack Bauer headlining the show, "Pompeii" is all setup with no payoff.
This article originally appeared in Neon Tommy on February 23, 2014.