When I sat down to watch Pompeii, I didn’t know what to expect (well, aside from a volcanic eruption, of course). I wasn’t sure how Paul W.S. Anderson would find or develop a story within the infamous event.
I was first struck by the beauty of the 3-D and general cinematography and effects. Through the second act they kind of forgot about the 3-D, but overall it added a beautiful depth to the picture, and was not kitschy or overwrought.
The rising action was very slow. The filmmakers decided to frame the movie as a weird kind of superhero-ish story, the underdog saves the day kind of stuff. There was a hint of a romantic story (that I think was supposed to hold much more weight than I feel it actually did): the princess (or whatever), Cassia, falls in love with the prisoner-turned-gladiator, Milo, who made it through unspeakable circumstances and survived ultimate hardship, etc., etc. His family was killed by the ruthless Roman senator Corvus long ago in then Northern Britannia, and, lo and behold, he randomly sees Corvus and his henchmen again years later and countries away, in Pompeii of all places, and has the opportunity to avenge his family. The story was weak, bland, and uninspired; they really could have developed a much more compelling and unconventional story to tell, with more consequence and that didn't feel so oddly simultaneously rushed and slow.
Though, the acting itself didn’t bother me (Kit Harington was inoffensive as Milo, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje probably gave the best performance as Atticus), the characters were dull and uninteresting and lacked nuance and depth. Kiefer Sutherland’s Corvus wasn’t as much a villain as simply a flat and vacuous pompous dick; Emily Browning’s Cassia had potential for interest, but never really got past the strong-willed royal daughter schlock - frankly, the characters generally were pretty boring, and I never had enough from them to really care about them or give them much thought.
If you'll allow me to be really dark and twisted for a moment (it's been long enough, right?...), the actual eruption was not gluttonous enough. It wasn't as epic as it could – and should – have been, and frankly not grand or climactic enough. Maybe one of the reasons factoring into that is that there was no sense of urgency: the build was too slow, and there was too much extra expository junk going on during the eruption besides dealing with the reality of the actual eruption! Again, there was not enough consequence: not enough emotion and feeling was elicited in the audience. We weren't compelled to care enough to make a rewarding watching experience. I mean, of course, you, as the viewer, have reconciled yourself to the fact that they’re all going to die at the end, but you should still feel with the characters, should still revel in the horror of dread and suspense, and that cathartic high was absent. The ending was also just ludicrous, such an obvious desperate ploy for some sort of pathos and empathy - I won't say any more about that...
Pompeii wasn't the worst, but it definitely wasn't great. A real missed opportunity here...