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.
Fans of author Alexandre Dumas' 1844 serialized novel The Three Musketeers (or heck fans of the 1993 Chris O'Donnell/Charlie Sheen Disney version!) beware: The latest incarnation bears little resemblance to the version you remember from high school English. Unless you sped-read through the reading in-between levels of your favorite video game—in which case it might be exactly as you remember.
Director Paul W.S. Anderson (Mortal Kombat the Resident Evil franchise) orchestrates his Musketeers with the rhyme and reason of a confetti popper loading his cinematic shotgun with familiar story beats paper thin characters and anachronistic technology in order blast his audience all the way back to last weekend's Saturday morning cartoons. The movie opens with the titular swashbucklers Athos (Matthew Macfadyen) Aramis (Luke Evans) and Porthos (Ray Stevenson) on a mission to crack Da Vinci's vault where the legendary inventor's master work is kept hidden. After running jumping slicing dicing and pressing every A+B+X+Y button combo imaginable it's Arthos' lady friend Milady de Winter (Milla Jovovich) who finally breaks in—only to steal Da Vinci's plans for a massive war machine and backstabbing the Musketeers in the process.
One year passes and we pick up with young son-of-an-ex-Musketeer D'Artagnan (Logan Lerman) who rides off to Paris in search of adventure. Before too long D'Artagnan crosses paths with the burnt-out swordsmen who see a little bit of themselves in the young lad who lays waste to 40 guardsmen after getting the stink eye (boy's got a bit of temper). The Musketeers return to form just in time as the movie's handful of villains are all preparing to strike at exactly the same moment. The Duke of Buckingham (Orlando Bloom) has built Da Vinci's balloon-powered airship and secretly plans an attack; Cardinal Richelieu (Christoph Waltz) convinces Milady to double cross Buckingham planting the Queen's diamond necklace in the Duke's posession to incite war (but wasn't he already...? Nevermind); and Richelieu's number two Rochefort (Mads Mikkelsen) who just likes to stab Musketeers in the face.
There's a whole lot of plot going on in The Three Musketeers but the film's presentation is so scatterbrained so rapid-fire that none of the many throughlines ever click to make sense. But Anderson gets very very lucky—thanks in no small part to a colorful cast that elevates the lazy storytelling with energy humor and charm. Macfadyen is stoic and sharp as Athos while Evans does his best to inject actual character into Aramis glowing with friendliness and warmth around his fellow Musketeers. Stevenson's rugged Pathos adds much needed comedy making up for the lame Planchet (James Corden) the Musketeers' Chris Farley-wannabe sidekick. Unfortunately Lerman's D'Artagnan is a black hole of charisma—not helpful as he's the crux of the story.
Anderson can't decide which plotlines to follow so great performers like Waltz and Mikkelsen are cut short in favor of spotlighting the scantily-clad Jovovich (yes even 1600s garb) who carries over all the wooden skills she demonstrated in the Resident Evil movies. Orlando Bloom might be the only cast member who realizes he's in a movie destined to be campy. Donning pastels glitter and eyeshadow Bloom twists his mustache and takes it over the top. That's when Musketeers is at its most fun.
Airship battles sword fights and fast-paced Ocean's 11-style infiltration montages are more entertaining than the silly story would suggest but more often than not Anderson downplays Three Musketeers most interesting aspect: The Musketeers themselves. Gone is the camaraderie the "all for one one for all." Instead Three Musketeers is an experience similar to watching a friend play video games. That friend's not going to waste time clicking through dialogue and learning the story when he could be zipping through adrenaline-infused landscapes blasting baddies into smithereens. Not even for your sake.