Starring: Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Kiefer Sutherland
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
In AD 79, Mount Vesuvius, the volcano overlooking the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum, erupted catastrophically. A fountain of molten rock, pulverised pumice and black ash shot 33 kilometres into the air and two lethal pyroclastic flows destroyed the two towns and most of their 16,000 inhabitants.
This is brought vividly to life in British director Paul W.S. Anderson's Pompeii. A sword-and-sandals epic with an ill-fated love story at its core and political intrigue against the backdrop of one of history's most famous natural disasters, it comes across as Gladiator meets The Notebook meets 2012. In short: in Pompeii, Anderson seems to have devised a whole new genre: historical-romance-action-disaster.
The upside of this is that there is plenty going on in the film to keep you occupied. The downside is there isn't a moment to catch your breath.
The brutal action - and the movie has plenty of it - unfolds within the first few frames, during which a little boy named Milo watches helplessly as his Celtic parents are killed by the advancing Romans, led by the vicious senator Corvus (Kiefer Sutherland).
Fast forward a decade or so, and Milo ( Game of Thrones' Kit Harington), is grown up, with killer abs, a dreamy countenance, tousled brown hair and determined eyes. He also happens to be the champion gladiator in the stable of a businessman who decides to take his pugilistic brood to Pompeii, to fight.
While the haggard troop of slaves is marching to Pompeii they come across the lovely Cassia (Emily Browning) and sparks fly between the doe-eyed daughter of a wealthy merchant and Milo. Inevitably, the latter part of the film is devoted to the young gladiator striving to save the life of his love, as Vesuvius causes all sorts of mayhem.
Pompeii has a pretty convincing set, especially in 3-D, where it feels as if those fiery rocks are coming right at you. The town of Pompeii looks glorious - especially the sprawling villa in which Cassia lives - the costumes are rich and romantic, and the film's special effects are compelling.
But the impressive visual landscaping cannot compensate for the film's failings. The action is too relentless, whether it's beefy gladiators trying to behead one another, or fleeing from the torrent of earthquakes, tsunamis or rocks unleashed by Vesuvius.
Often, these two scenarios play out side by side. For example, while running for their lives, the gladiators decide to stop for a second and try to kill one another again, standing in an amphitheatre that just minutes earlier appeared to have crumbled to the ground. That, and numerous other plot points, lend an air of contrived implausibility to the film.
Pompeii opens on February 27