You know Asylum Films - that production company that makes low budget versions of Hollywood blockbusters (eg: Atlantic Rim, and Age of Tomorrow)? This initially felt like a cheap rip-off of Gladiator, with an exploding volcano thrown in for good measure.
The first thing you notice is, "Hey, hang on a minute, isn't that Jon Snow from Game of Thrones? What's he doing away from The Black Watch? And isn't that like, Heavy Duty from G.I.Joe? What's he doing with a strange accent and cheesy one-liners? And isn't that the Police Captain bloke from Grimm? What's he doing with a pansy haircut and less lines to say than some of the animals appearing on-screen?
But wait, that's not all - isn't that Prof. Moriarty from Sherlock Holmes? What's he doing being mis-cast as a spineless and ineffectual Roman leader? (By the way, the actor in question is Jared Harris - son of the legendary Richard Harris, who might actually be rolling in his grave). But the greatest travesty comes from Kiefer Sutherland, who obviously needed some spare change to take this role - playing a cliched cruel and unscrupulous senator.
In fact 'Cliche' is the operative word for this movie - you've seen it all before - so don't be surprised if you watch many of the scenes with a sense of deja-vu. W. S. loves his action sequences, so the gladiatorial battles are fast and furious - and the volcanic eruptions are actually quite beautiful. And quite clever.
Unfortunately there's nothing clever about the plot - our main protagonist's upbringing and means of gaining proficient fighting skills are all glossed over. After losing his father and his tribe, obviously he's got an inherent hatred of the Romans, but hell, so did most of subjugated humanity at the time... He also conveniently falls in love with the main female lead within seconds of seeing her, prompting that old 'unrequited/forbidden love' movie chestnut. (Her mother, incidentally, is played by Trinity from The Matrix, who obviously had some time on her hands now that Neo's escapades are over).
Having said all of this, again I must say I knew what to expect, and therefore wasn't as disappointed as I might have been. In the climactic scene, as fire and brimstone rains down upon the doomed city, I dare say a few budding movie careers will also go up in flames.
Pompeii. Better than a punch in the face. Only just.