As a boy, Milo watched as his parents were butchered by Roman soldiers. These armor-clad warriors were sent to quell a horse tribe rebellion. But thanks to a brutal Roman officer named Corvus, the entire Celtic community was killed as an example to any others who might want to act up. Milo barely escaped with his young life by hiding under the torn bodies of the dead. No sooner had he scrabbled his way out, however, than he was grabbed by passing slavers.
It's 17 years later now, and Milo has been a slave all his life. He's also been transformed from a frightened child into a hardened and deadly gladiator―a seasoned killer who can take on four fighters at a time without breaking a sweat. He may not be the largest gladiator to stride into the arena, but he's certainly the fastest. And before a lumbering barbarian can even lift his ax, Milo ("The Celt," as the Romans call him) can bury his blade in the man's jugular and be in motion to take out the next foe.
Of course that kind of skill doesn't go unnoticed. A big-city trainer spots him in some grubby outland arena and snatches him up faster than you can drop a copper coin into a greasy palm. And before you know it, Milo is packed up and sent off to Pompeii.
This Roman resort town is known for its beautiful vistas and lush landscapes―nestled as it is at the foot of a glorious mountain. Milo doesn't care much for scenery. But he does have a keen eye. And it just so happens that he spots a certain senator named Corvus riding through the streets. Milo believes the gods have purposely placed them in the same spot; they have allowed Milo to mark the one person he hates most.
Milo's sure the gods have led him to someone else, too, when the sensitive brute encounters a local noble girl and is taken by her beauty. She becomes quite enthralled with him as well. It's an unlikely pairing, to be sure, but happenstance might just help their budding passions grow.
Come to think of it, ever since setting foot in this strange city of Pompeii, all manner of unexpected things have beset Milo—love, fury and friendship all wrapped together in them. These powerful emotions are enough to make the very ground shake beneath his feet.
In the midst of a culture that revels in men killing one another, the film says that friendship and even love can bloom. A bond of brotherhood forms between Milo and a fellow gladiator named Atticus, even though the two are expected to fight each other to the death. And while Milo and the noble girl Cassia are members of completely different classes, they fall deeply in love, despising their supposed differences.
Later, once that shaking ground gives way to much, much worse, we see Milo and Atticus putting their lives on the line to save the struggling innocents around them. Atticus, for instance, fights against a panicked crowd to keep a fallen young girl from being crushed underfoot.
There are a number of comments made about how the gods are impacting the course of current events. In fact, Milo and Atticus are drawn further together as friends because of their mutual belief that the gods have a plan for them. "Make no mistake, my gods are coming for you!" Milo screams at a foe. And Cassia shares a similar perspective when she later asks of the volcanic destruction, "Why would the gods let this happen?" We see Atticus kneeling and silently praying to a small wooden statue.
Several women, including Cassia and her servant, wear low-cut dresses. Gladiators are ushered into a party where female merrymakers (and the camera) are invited to admire the men's physiques. One woman makes a comment about the firmness of a fighter's posterior and pays several coins to "inspect his weaponry." Milo and Cassia kiss passionately.
From its opening scenes, Pompeii is a film rife with murder, death and destruction. We see Roman soldiers stabbing and hacking at tribespeople with short swords. Milo's father is stabbed from two directions, and Milo's unarmed mother is slashed across the throat. Bloodied dead are stacked like cordwood and some are hung from their feet in a large tree as a warning to passersby.
Arena battles feature pummeling and stabbing deaths. Men are strangled with a chain and stabbed in the chest, stomach and legs. We see scores of soldiers and gladiators bleeding out on the ground. A pool of water is tinged red by the huge amounts of spilled blood.
The relatively frail Cassia is viciously elbowed and punched. Milo's face is slammed into a wall and his back opened by whip lashes. A man's finger is bitten off, leaving a bloody stump. Another man has a broken sword jammed up under his chin.
Then, once the eruption begins, death is dealt out on a massive scale. Arena bleachers and various buildings collapse, crushing the throngs with heavy blocks of stone and huge roughhewn timbers. A tsunami washes ships up into the streets of Pompeii as townsfolk are drowned and/or crushed. Buildings, ships, chariots and the crowds as well are hit and crushed or set aflame by large rocks and roaring fireballs, belched from the exploding mountain. A handful of souls are seen running around engulfed in flame. Large fissures open up in the earth and swallow buildings and many more screaming people. A massive cloud of embers and ash turn men and animals into sizzling statues.
Crude or Profane Language
One use of "b‑‑ch" and an exclamation of "Juno's t-t!"
Drug and Alcohol Content
Revelers at a Roman party, including Corvus and Cassia's parents, drink large goblets of wine. Atticus pours part of his wine ration on torn-open wounds on Milo's back.
Other Negative Elements
Atticus also bets wine rations on a fighter.
For me the story of an erupting Mount Vesuvius and its nearby city of Pompeii has always conveyed a historical sense of awe and mystery. From the first time I ever saw textbook pictures of those ancient Roman citizens―their forms frozen in place and time by an utterly unexpected and instantaneous deluge of volcanic fire, smoke and ash―I couldn't help but wonder what it had been like. What those people had been doing, thinking and feeling just before being caught off guard.
So it was with some small enthusiasm that I sat down to watch a movie seemingly devoted to those exact imaginings.
I did not get up two hours later in the same frame of mind.
There's no mystery or quiet contemplation here. This Paul W.S. Anderson creation is merely yet another full-blown Hollywood disaster film. (And not even the serious-minded kind like 2012's The Impossible.) This is more of a Poseidon Adventure/Towering Inferno kind of actioner. Only pumped up with a shocking jolt of next-gen CGI steroids.
Once the mountain starts to blow you've got earthquakes, city block-swallowing geological fissures, people-pelting storms of boulders and fireballs, screaming masses, sun-blocking smoke plumes, blistering lightning bolts and even a terribly stylized tsunami. The onslaught is stupendous as it rushes at the screen with all the 3-D splendor modern money can buy. And, thus, an event that history teaches us was nearly instantaneous is stretched out over as much digital film stock as possible.
Gladiators! Absolute destruction! Evil Roman centurions! Warring tribesmen! Machiavellian politicians! Merciless whippings! A Titanic-tinged love story! And, yes, that vile and vicious volcano!
No awe. No mystery. No intelligence. Just a big overwrought mess. My own youthful ponderings seem pretty grown up compared to all this.