The dust never settles as Resident Evil maestro Paul WS Anderson sets a tale of romance, heroism and revenge amidst the cataclysmic last days of Pompeii. Game of Thrones star Kit Harington is the Celtic slave who expects to go out in a blaze of glory in the gladiatorial arena, yet finds his fate tied to a Roman beauty (Emily Browning), a sadistic senator (Kiefer Sutherland) and - like the rest of the city - the volcanic wrath of Mount Vesuvius. Take cover as the visual effects team unleashes enough fire and brimstone to bring down an empire.
Paul WS Anderson
Posh bird falls for bit of rough during one of the most cataclysmic events in history. Now where have we seen that before?
Yes, it's Titanic meets Gladiator as enslaved Celt Milo (Harington, all sculpted abs and shaggy glowers) catches the eye of Roman noblewoman Cassia (Browning) on the road to Pompeii.
After bonding over a dying horse, he is dragged off to fight for his freedom with other gladiators like the mighty Atticus (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) while she tries to explain to her parents (Jared Harris and Carrie-Anne Moss) why she is back so soon from Rome.
It's because the place is full of horrid Romans like Senator Corvus (Sutherland), the merciless cad who slaughtered Milo's folks back when he was a wotten centuwion.
Now here he is again, acting like one of Alec Guinness's long-lost ancestors from Kind Hearts and Coronets and demanding to marry Cassia without so much as a by-your-leave.
So whether friends, Romans or countryfolk, everyone is expecting a dust-up. Alas, nobody is ready for the ultimate dust-up, as Mount Vesuvius prepares to evacuate its bowels in seismically spectacular fashion.
Like Titanic, the romance and rivalry is just so much padding around the main event. Save for one exasperated cry of "Juno's tit!", the unconvincing dialogue and cookie-cutter characters have all the edge and impact of a middling children's telly show.
Fans of the gloriously gratuitous, 18+ excesses of Starz TV's Spartacus will find it particularly tame. But as the founder of the Resident Evil franchise, director Anderson is no stranger to orchestrating chaos.
While Milo and Cassia are merely Jack and Rose by any other name (they even get their own "king of the world" moment), the framing story is despatched in half the time of James Cameron's glacial epic. And once the action reaches the arena, the pace never flags.
After getting everyone's blood up with a rousing, Romans-vs-gladiators smackdown, Anderson allows his FX legions to unleash hell, decimating the panicking hordes in an earth-rending onslaught of crumbling masonry, tidal waves, and gigantic fireballs.
Historians and other spoilsports would have us believe that most victims died from the intense heat and fumes. But with the most reliable eyewitness (the venerable Pliny the Younger) submitting his account over two decades later and no first-hand reports to the contrary, who's to say it didn't go down like this?
Whatever. This is history by Hollywood and as such treads a fine line between disaster epic and epic disaster.
Thankfully, with its hokily enjoyable mix of sword-swinging heroics and CG pandemonium, Pompeii doesn't blow it.