Pompeii is a mish-mash of disaster movie and sword and sandal epic with only moderate success in either pursuit. Then again, I freely admit I only watched this for two reasons: Spectacular destruction and to gaze upon Kit Harrington's equally spectacular abs.
The film itself is a combination of well-worn tropes we've seen many times before. For the first two-thirds, the film is a gladiator epic, mainly ripping off Gladiator and subbing Kit Harrington for Russell Crowe. He plays slave turned gladiator Milo, seeking revenge against Senator Corvus (played by the woefully miscast Kiefer Sutherland). We also have Atticus, (played by Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) as his slave/gladiator sidekick in a role shamelessly ported over directly from the aforementioned film.
In addition to this, Milo also finds himself in a star-crossed love affair with a woman from a higher class (Titanic, anyone?). In this case, she's Cassia (played by Emily Browning). Of course, she also catches Senator Corvus's eye therefore allowing Kiefer Sutherland to pull double duty by playing Billy Zane's role from Titanic as well. Of course, all this is just filler until Mount Vesuvius finally blows it's top. It's a long hour or so for us to get there though.
Once the eruption does start, the film somehow dramatically improves as the entire city descends into chaos as everyone tries to save themselves. Images of people running through the streets, trying to escape the city either through the port (which, ahem, didn't exist in the real Pompeii, which was not located on the coast) or other means. The effects are well rendered for the most part, creating a convincing recreation of the eruption. Of course, the film isn't particularly accurate to the real Pompeii at all. For example, the real Stadium (which still stands today), fared a lot better than the movie version.
In the end, Pompeii is what we would get if we took Gladiator, Titanic, and Dante's Peak and put them in a blender. The film shamelessly rips off what came before wholesale and presents it as new in a poorly researched, although with convincing effects, film based on a real historical event. The real shame is it had the potential to be better than it was. Still, it's not a total waste as long as you're watching it for the right
abs er, reasons.