This really couldn’t be any more derivative of ‘Gladiator’ (2000) if it tried – you can imagine the execs behind it .. ‘hmm polls show that audiences loved Gladiator, and that films with lots of explosions in them do pretty well, so what we’ll do is make another Gladiator and then half way through it we’ll blow the shit out of everything!!!’. Which is exactly what we see as Vesuvius, the volcano that buried the ancient Roman city of Pompeii in 79AD, detonates like a well timed nuclear explosion for the second half of the film, showering the audience with meteors, tsunamis, earthquakes, surprisingly little lava, and dreadful escape sequences with that horrible trope of action and disaster films – characters fleeing with disaster literally just one step behind, something we have largely been mercifully spared from of late, possibly after it was taken to excess by M. Night Shyamalan with his central characters managing to outrun the wind itself in ‘The Happening’ (08).
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson, who actually has done some really good films (well, one anyway – ‘Event Horizon’ in 97), but also has a series portfolio of lead weight B movies, here he’s not only copied the plot from Gladiator, but also tried to mimic the way it was directed, alas he is no Ridley Scott and it really shows. We see the warrior forced into slavery and the life of a gladiator (played in a wondrously wooden way by Kit Harrington, who seems to think he’s in a Vidal Sassoon advert for the film’s duration, see the picture above), who vows vengeance against the Roman ruler (Keifer Sutherland, attempting a posh English accent for some reason) that he will defy in the arena, cue thumbs up or down moment, but not before he’s befriended the nearest large black man to do a lot of the fighting for him (played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, who is the only one that can hold his head up high with a strong performance here) and managed to turn what was supposed to be a massacre for the slaves into their victory (battle against the Celts here replacing Carthage, although interestingly Scotland remained one of the few places the Romans failed to conquer – eventually opting to build not just one, but two walls to actually try and keep us out from the rest of their domain, ha!) and also captivating the sexual desire of the same woman that the Roman patrician also has his eye on (not the Roman’s sister on this occasion and played by Emily Browning, she is also sporting an English accent, so maybe she began as his sister and then they changed it).
The effects are fine, but it fails in pretty much every other department. We even see our leading man make a getaway from Pompeii with girl in toe on his horse’s back behind him (he can talk to animals and befriend any horse as well incidentally, which is no doubt what attracts the virginal attention of his mistress, whose previous sexual encounters will all have been on horses) and they are clean off into the night, when our hero decides he doesn’t want her to be a fugitive and he had best give himself up and say he gave her no choice. Or they could’ve kept on going and lived happily ever after. In fact they perform this same routine of complete stupidity not just once, but twice. Sigh. Despite the carnage and annihilation suffered by all around the two lovers make sure to always have enough time to fix their hair and deal with all their side plot elements, but at least Vesuvius doesn’t disappoint on the destruction scale, indeed this particular eruption is historically estimated to have emitted an amount of thermal energy many thousands of times that produced at Hiroshima and also buried several other cities in the region under ash – with tens of thousands of fatalities incurred by the roiling clouds of hot gas and rock (pyroclastic density currents) that swept the area at enormous speeds, something the film does represent, at times, really well (I don’t believe there were any meteoric asteroids though, I was there you see, chortling away to myself).
Vesuvius is currently one of sixteen volcanos being closely monitored around the world which are all volatile and present a serious threat to large populations, Naples for example is only circa 10km from Vesuvius.