Reviewer: Charity Bishop
When you go head to head with other epic movies in the same vein, you need something new to hook audiences and hold their cinematic attention. This film draws inspiration from Gladiator and Titanic for a love story set against an impending disaster... the volcanic eruption that buried Pompeii.
After witnessing the murder of his entire family at the hands of the Romans, young Milo (Kit Harington) is captured by passing marauders and turned into a gladiator. He's successful enough in the arena to make the important journey to Pompeii, where his owner hopes to make a profit off him playing in the games. On his way there, he meets the beautiful Cassia (Emily Browning), newly returned from Rome in the hope of escaping the romantic overtures of Senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland). Unfortunately, he follows her under the guise of accepting her father's business proposal to build more aqueducts for Pompeii. Her budding attraction to Milo plays out against the impending games and the tremors rocking the city, leading some to consider abandoning Pompeii for fear of earthquakes...
I have had a change of heart concerning this film. When I first saw it, I drew too many unfavorable comparisons to other epics in the same genre and it came out lacking. But each subsequent viewing I have found something else to love about the film. I think it was unfairly criticized upon its first release. It is flawed (the film is only an hour and a half long, with scenes removed that could have fleshed out more of the characters) but it is not as awful as the critics say it is. Once you get used to them, the leads have a nice chemistry with one another. The action scenes are spectacularly staged and in many instances, the writer is using characters in a symbolic as much as a literal incarnation. Cassia and Milo are not merely fighting Romans for their lives, they are fighting the arrogance and power of Rome. There are subtle things at work here including themes of freedom and personal sacrifice.
The heroine has spirit. She fights for every inch she gets, risks her life as often as the hero, and does not wait to be saved; time and again we see her take matters into her own hands. I liked that. She's a good foil for "the man of few words" but who has a big heart. Is it ridiculous that they fall in love over a period of about twelve hours? Of course. But this is Hollywood, where realism is always sacrificed for drama. I still feel that the villain should have been another actor (perhaps they should have given his role to Sasha Roiz, who is mostly wasted as the largely silent Proculus) that looked more in period, but the immense amount of research, detail, and costuming design that went into this is glorious. It's a fairly accurate representation of how events unfurled in terms of the volcano taking over the city, and it dabbles in the political climate of the time with mentions of Emperor Titus.
On a superficial level, this is Titanic for the younger set -- but its heroines are moral and unselfish, giving everything for one another in the hope the other will survive ... or at least, find freedom. It's beautiful. With some script revision and polishing, twenty more minutes to to develop characters, more complexities to its villain and a few different cast members, it could have been magnificent... but it's still memorable.
An older man makes overtures to a younger woman and tries to force her to marry him; she alludes to the fact that he may try to force himself on her. Some cleavage.
One exclamation of "bitch!"
Men kill one another in the arena. Families are massacred by Romans. People are stabbed, stuck with spears, and bludgeoned. Mass chaos ensues when the volcano erupts -- people drown, get trampled, get buried in flaming rubble, and encased in ash. A man breaks a horse's neck to end his suffering after an accident.
References to Roman gods.