TriStar Pictures via Everett Collection
An hour and change into Pompeii, there's a volcano. You'd think there might have been a volcano throughout — you'd think that the folks inhabiting the ill-fated Italian village would have been dealing with the infamous volcano for the full 110 minutes. After all, volcano movies have worked before. Volcano, for instance. And the other one. But for some reason, Pompeii feels the need to stuff its first three quarters with coliseum battles, Ancient Rome politics, unlikely friendships, and a love story. But we don’t care. We can't care. None of it warrants our care. Where the hell is the volcano, already?
To answer that: it's off to the side — rumbling. Smoking. Occasionally spiking the neighboring community with geological fissures or architectural misgivings. Pretty much executing every trick picked up in Ominous Foreshadowing 101, but never joining the story. Not until Paul W.S. Anderson shouts, "Last call," hitting us with a final 20-odd minutes of unmitigated disaster (in a good way). If you've managed to maintain a waking pulse throughout the lecture in sawdust that is Pompeii's story, then you might actually have a good time with the closing sequence. It has everything you’d expect — everything you had been expecting! — and delivers it with gusto. Torpedoes of smoke running hordes of idiot villagers out of their homes and toward whatever safety the notion of forward has to offer. Long undeveloped characters rising to the occasion to rescue hapless princesses who thought it might be a good idea to set their vacation homes at the foot of a lava-spewing mountain. The whole ordeal is actually a lot of laughs. But it amounts to a dessert just barely worth the tasteless dinner we had to force down to get there.
TriStar Pictures via Everett Collection
To get through the bulk of Pompeii, we recommend focusing all your attentions away from the effectively bland slave/gladiator/hero Kit Harington — sorry, Jon Snow (he's actually called a bastard at one point) — and onto his partner in crime: a scowling Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje — sorry, Mr. Eko (he and Snow actually trade valedictions by saying "I'll see you at another time, brother" at one point) — who warms up to his fellow prize fighter during their shared time in the klink, and delivers his moronic material with a sprinkle of flair. Keeping the working man down is Kiefer Sutherland — sorry, Jack Bauer — as an ostentatious Roman senator, doling out vainglory in Basil Fawlty-sized portions. When he's not spitting scowls at peasants, ol' JB is undermining the efforts of an earnest local governor Jared Harris — sorry, Lane Pryce (he actually calls someone a mad man at one point) — and his wife Carrie-Anne Moss — sorry, Katherine O'Connell from Vegas (joking! Trinity) — and finagling the douchiest marriage proposal ever toward their daughter Emily Browning — sorry, but I have no idea what she's from.
But questionable television references and some enjoyably daft performances by Eko and Jack can't really make up for the heft of mindless dullness that Pompeii passes off as its narrative... until the big showstopper.
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In truth, the last sequence is a gem. It's fun, inviting, and energizing, and might even call into question the possibility that Pompeii is all about how futile life, love, friendship, politics, and pride are when even the most egregiously complicated of plots can be taken out in the end by a sudden volcanic eruption. But you have to wade through that egregious complication to get there, and you shouldn't expect to have too much of a good time doing so.
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"Sorry if my snoring bothered you."
Those are not the first words I'd expect out of the mouth of someone who got up on a Friday morning to catch the 10:30 AM screening of a new movie but that is more or less what the fellow who'd been sitting behind me said as I passed him on my way out. I'd heard him snoring over the constant rat-a-tat-tat of bullets and butt-kicking being doled out by Milla Jovovich et al in this latest iteration of the never-ending Resident Evil series (this time in IMAX 3D) but I figured maybe I was hearing things. Nope he was asleep.
I used to play Resident Evil on my ancient PlayStation when it first came out. It scared the crap out of me. I enjoyed the first two movies — hey they included the skinless zombie dogs! — but I lost interest soon after that. How many times can you make the zombie apocalypse exciting? How many different skintight outfits can Jovovich wear while killing grotesque creatures who shoot evil grasping tentacles out of their mouths? Why should we care about all the blood and guts when we know the people we're supposed to be emotionally invested in will never die? We don't.
Try as he might there are only so many ways for writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson to give the Resident Evil series fresh new layers for each new movie. The Umbrella Corporation is the big bad. They were playing with biological weapons and somehow there was an accident that let one of the viruses loose... and boom you've got a zombie apocalypse on your hands. Our heroine is Alice played by Milla Jovovich and there is a rotating cast of characters who help her fight the good fight against the hordes of brain-eaters and whatever is left of the Umbrella Corporation that's now after her. There are some parallels to the video game series but Paul W.S. Anderson (a gamer himself) has taken lots of liberties with the basic plot over the years. While Anderson's flashy style is especially suited to these types of movies there's not enough plot to make it work.
We don't go to video game movies for plot of course but there has to be something to hold onto; otherwise why would we care if our protagonist were in danger? Anderson tries some neat tricks to snap us back to attention like bringing back characters that were killed in previous movies and throwing in a cloning subplot that calls into question some of the characters' true identities but it's still hard to get worked up about anything onscreen. However it ultimately sidesteps any deeper ideas that might take our attention away from all the guns. And there are so many guns and explosions and elegant butt-kickings doled out by Milla and her pals (or former pals in the case of Michelle Rodriguez's character Rain) that they blend together.
It is especially difficult to work up any interest in the story because it's a franchise and no matter how many times the stars or director might say they're not that interested in doing another everyone is just waiting to see how much money this will make before deciding to go forward. There is no question how franchise movies will end; there will be no derring-do on the part of the writer or director to actually kill off a beloved character permanently. At one point it seemed like Anderson was going to pull the old "And then she woke up!" trick which would have been bold both because it's such a hackneyed idea that it would make writing professors' heads explode all over the world but also because it would have required Anderson to play in a different universe and expand his repertoire a bit. Alas like Alice and Anderson himself we just can't seem to escape this rabbit hole.
S06E07 This was a fantastic episode. A+. 10/10. Everything Moffat teased and I hoped for, happened. It was glorious. It simultaneously began in the middle of action, answered major questions, gave us more questions, and then set up the series for YEARS to come. How could I give it anything less than my best?
We'll go through the highlights of the episode, first before delving into its implications. Perhaps my favorite thing about the opening is that it begins completely in media res. We’ve seen the Doctor rally up an army (the end of season 4 comes to mind) and the first half of this episode feels like the second half of a really good “The Doctor takes on a giant army” episode. Even the triumphant music feels like it should be at the end of an episode, not halfway through it! And perhaps that’s why it's such a good episode - we expect it to be over, but then it keeps going and it gets better! From a narrative standpoint it was amazing - we’ve grown used to the Doctor, we expect him to come out on top, so let’s see him how we expect to see him and keep going with more twists. Excellent, excellent, excellent.
Demons run, when a good man goes to war.
Night will fall and drown the sun, when a good man goes to war.
Friendship dies and true love lies.
Night will fall and the dark will rise, when a good man goes to war.
Demons run but count the cost. The battle's won but the child is lost.
Right at the beginning we get two great scenes cutting back and forth. Amy starts talking to her (absolutely adorable, SO CUTE) baby, the lovely Melody Pond. She tells her that even though she’s being taken away she is always loved and someone is coming after her - her father. Cut to Rory back in Roman garb. He has a question (WHERE IS MY WIFE???) and a message from the Doctor (BOOM!). Amy warns them to be braver because you do not come between a companion’s daughter with the Doctor on her side. Then back to Rory being all suave and badass and shit. Now, are we still confused about who the father of this baby is? They played it up here and they made it seem questionable later on, but I thought this was settled? Oh well, I guess a little tension here and there always helps.
Then boom - we’re off to the episodes single serving characters who conveniently explain the plot. Now the really interesting thing about this was just how on the nose Moffat made it about how dispensable these characters are. True, why bother naming them when he’s the fat gay anglo preacher marine? And he’s the skinny one. It was a nice unexpected comment on the series. But anyway, the girl is a little disobedient by sewing in her free time but the guards don’t care. They’re more interested in the headless monks. The fat one gets taken as a sacrifice and he eventually has to do something with an empty box and a head but then it cuts away before we find out what happens.
So what’s the Doctor been up to this whole time? As the fat blue man points out - the eye patch lady took someone he cares about very deeply (at a very important time in her life) and that means only one thing. He’s raising an army. Turns out, that’s exactly what he’s doing. He’s calling in a bunch of old favors and debts so we get a semi-montage of all the people he’s gathering up. Now, I have no idea (or desire to do the necessary research) if these people he’s gathering up have been people we’ve seen before but does it matter to the story? Not really (actually the fat blue guy is from the New Earth episode back in season 2). The Doctor rescues people. He has a bunch of people in his debt. It just makes sense. So he gathers a (lesbian, katana wielding) Silurian, a Sontarian, a Rhino Fro-Yo-No-Go guy and probably more people that we didn’t see.
And who are we fighting? Apparently the religious military that has started who has partnered with the headless monks seen earlier. They do everything they can to dispel the mythology of the Doctor that had grown over the centuries through the universe. He’s not a ghost, he’s not a demon, he’s a man. And he can die. Well, except he’s not a man. But that’s a small point (kinda). What does matter are those headless monks ARE ACTUALLY HEADLESS. AND THEIR NECKS HAVE A TWIST TIE LIKE A GARBAGE BAG! PUNK ROCK! That was kinda creepy but you know what took it to the next level? The Doctor’s entrance!
‘Surprised?’ - The Doctor
The Doctor goes off and does his thing. He disappears into the dark and makes the monks turn against the army. We almost think the army outsmarts the Doctor when they lay down their arms to regain the trust of the monks but of course the Doctor thought of that. As soon as their unarmed BOOM - the Doctor’s army appears. Ahaha, the Doctor disarms them and captures them without firing a shot. Lizard lady was right - the Doctor has never risen higher.
But how could he possibly fall farther than ever? Has to do with Amy, of course. Rory makes the appropriate entrance and the new parents have their teary reunion. Sweet as it should be. However, did anyone else think Rory looked, I’m not even sure, angry when he turned around to the Doctor? Like, he should have been smiling or something when he told him to get down there. Small complaint, I know. Anyway, turns out the Doctor can speak baby and little Melody Pond (the superhero!) even thinks bow ties looks stupid. But no they don’t - they’re cool.
Never mind that, no matter how cute it is - why did this army want Amy and her baby? That’s the question. Doctor goes off to find fat blue dude and Lizard Lady analyzing what the army had been up to with the baby but not before delivering another badass monologue. It’s often said that the Doctor is never more terrifying when he’s talking quietly and this was a text book example of it when he deemed the general General Runaway. But that was that. Turns out - there is a little bit of Time Lord DNA mixed in with some human DNA. Was that another red herring that the Doctor might be the father? Seriously, another? Eh, whatever. It led to some fantastic awkward dancing dialogue as the Lizard Lady asked the important question of, you know, when that baby, umm, began. The Doctor thinks back and it turns out that the first time Amy and Rory spent on the TARDIS in this time line was, oh god, on their wedding night. BOW CHIKA WOW WOW.
As they say in Jurassic Park - life (in this case: Time Lord) finds a way.
Eye Patch Lady pops up right then (timely!) and the Doctor confronts her. What does she want with the child? Well, to fight in the war. War against who? The Doctor, of course. Aha. Then she starts rubbing it in how she tricked him twice and the Doctor figures out what is wrong. Melody was a fake too! Oh noes! (A trick within the trick and we have a little Inception with the conception happening) He starts running (always with the running) back to the hangar where he had left the rest of the team. They figured out something was wrong when the lights started going out, the monks started chanting, and a force field appeared around the TARDIS. Clues, they are helpful. Rory poses up in the most awkward pose ever, Amy tells him to let everyone else die first, and the battle begins. Speaking of the monks and battling, seriously? Lightsabers? I mean, I know they were electrical swords but you cannot have a sword like weapon and put electricity on it and not compare it to lightsabers. But whatever. They were creepy.
But alas, the Doctor does not get there in time. SAD FACE. He goes off to talk to the girl who wanted nothing more than to see him one more time. They reminisce about the time they ran through the forest together before she eventually bites it. It was sweet and that was the moment River decides to show up. Why now? Because she couldn’t take part in it. He finally confronts her about who she is and she finally tells him that she has been telling him. He looks at the crib that turned out to be his but instead sees the little cloth the forest girl had sewn for Amy. Like a bolt of lightning everything finally comes into focus for him and he rushes off without really saying anything (besides giggling like a little school boy who just got caught by the parents - which, turns out, he just kind of did). Amy looks confused, grabs a gun (cause that’s what you do) and demands to know what she is talking about. She reminds them that the only water in the forest is the river and that the TARDIS translation stuff works slower on written stuff and when she finally turns it over -
OH MAN RIVER SONG IS MELODY POND AND AMY’S DAUGHTER!!!
‘Hello.’ - The Doctor
‘Hello.’ - River (or should we say Melody Pond?!?!?!)
As if it couldn’t end any better: the episode they return on is called Let’s Kill Hitler. Absolutely perfect.
So what does this mean? Let’s take a look at everything we know, everything we can assume because of what we know now, and what that can possibly mean.
River is Amy’s daughter: so that means the Doctor eventually gets the baby back. Is that why he was smiling? Possibly. Combine that with the fact that River knows the Doctor’s name (and we usually assume that means she is his wife) of course he would giggle. So, was it River (or do we call her Melody now? Eh, I like River better) in the spacesuit that kills the Doctor? Maybe. And had River already escaped when they find the space suit before they were able to send her through time, creating a new timeline? Or is that wishful thinking? I guess eventually she’ll regenerate into the current version of River. Ugh, that’d be annoying as a parent - always having a shapeshifting child. Also, Moffat has expressly stated that both River and the Doctor have definitely died when we see them pass. Which doesn’t make sense to me since that would end the show but I’m sure there is some wiggle room (or Moffat is lying about the Doctor dying).
Does the Doctor know he's going to die? Amy told one version of him that he would die but was that the flesh? Quite possibly. So, does he go through with it? What greater purpose does it serve? Who could benefit so much from his death that he would go through with it? If it's River then there's something else we don’t know about her.
As for what’s to come: I’m going to guess that River will be the next companion. Matt Smith is back for another year though Karen and Arthur aren’t. I’d imagine this is the year that River and Doctor go off and do their thing and it will be grand. Moffat says he has a plan (this I definitely believe) and it shall be fantastic. I deem it such.
It also explains all of last season: they were going after Amy using a classic Terminator plan. Can’t get the enemy? Kill the parents. Why they didn’t try sending a cyborg back through time instead of destroying all of time and space, we shall never know. All we know now is that River is definitely destined to be something important since the TARDIS basically flung the Doctor towards Amy to ensure her safety and the eventual birth of River.
But as we all know - time can be rewritten.