(EW.com) -- The thing I find most surprising about Pompeii is that there aren't two rival Pompeii movies. The Paul W.S. Anderson movie has the look and feel of Deep Impact/Armageddon and Volcano/Dante's Peak (though, believe it or not, Roman Polanski was once attached to direct).
Alas, Pompeii has the field to itself, a big-budget 3-D disaster epic that lands smack in the box-office dead zone of February. It's just crazy enough to work!
Game of Thrones' Kit Harington plays Milo, a Roman slave-turned-gladiator who catches the eye of an upper-class beauty (Emily Browning) who in turn is promised to the corrupt Roman politician (Kiefer Sutherland) who butchered his family. Conflict! Harrington sculpted his body to look the part of a gladiator, but EW's Owen Gleiberman thinks Russell Crowe's Maximus from Gladiator isn't in danger of being surpassed anytime soon, writing, "Harington knows how to handle a broadsword, but mostly he comes off as the British Taylor Kitsch, a glorified fashion model striking Blue Steel poses that smolder, boringly."
There also happens to be the looming destruction bubbling up from Mount Vesuvius, the Italian volcano that annihilated Pompeii in 79 A.D. The critics are mixed on whether the volcano is the film's villain or hero. Read below to see what they're saying about Pompeii before heading to the theaters this weekend.
Owen Gleiberman (Entertainment Weekly) ▼
"The volcano spews an endless shower of fiery asteroids trailed by smoky plumes — an apocalyptic fireworks show that takes down the city. ... Bodies get frozen into sculptures of ash that will last forever. It's supposed to make this love story timeless, but by the end of Pompeii, you'll be grateful that the movie only lasts 104 minutes."
Peter Debruge (Variety)
"Taking a page from Titanic, the film invents a rich-girl/poor-boy romance, puts a powerful suitor in their way and then besets their star-crossed love story with CG lava showers, rendered all the more spectacular in stereoscopic 3-D. In short, Pompeii is a blast, at least by guilty-pleasure standards..."
Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle) ▼
"As for the fact that there's no reason to care whom the fireballs hit, or who gets covered in lava, or whose house caves, or whose ship blows up -- well, that's unfortunate. Although, if you think of Pompeii as a ride, a conveyance for special effects, and not anything resembling an emotional experience, indifference can almost be a good thing."
Jordan Mintzer (Hollywood Reporter) ▼
"The lava flows by the ton, as does the cheese, in Pompeii, a kitschy apocalyptic peplum whose visual epiphanies — of which there are definitely a few — cannot outdo a B- (or C- or D-) grade scenario that will have lots of eyes rolling by the time the big stack finally blows."
Claudia Puig (USA Today)
"Besides Gladiator and Titanic, the film borrows from 300, Troy, Spartacus, Clash of the Titans, and even The Princess Bride. The result is a generic saga with a cast of forgettable one-dimensional characters."
Gary Goldstein (Los Angeles Times)
"Sure, it's not the brainiest of outings, but director Paul W.S. Anderson (the man behind four of the Resident Evil films) keeps the action apace and the lava a-flowing with workmanlike energy and sufficient visual dazzle."
Miriam Bale (New York Times)
"Anderson displays his mastery as a director in the sword-fighting scenes. The camera glides and tilts in exact counterpoint to the thrusts of the knives, as if a bloody ballet. These scenes recall the elegance and deftness of great car chases from films like Bullitt."
Liam Lacey (Toronto Globe and Mail)
"No doubt the audiences in the Coliseum would offer a thumbs-up to the scale of the destruction, though even they might have had some quibbles about the special effects, which, too often, resemble a very large pile of melting crayons."
Rene Rodriguez (Miami Herald)
"The dialogue is often pleasantly leaden ("I've never seen you look at any man the way you looked at that slave!" one of Cassia's friends says as she ogles the buff Milo), but the sound effects are way cool, and the 3-D is spectacular, with glowing ashes that seem to float off the screen and onto your lap."
Stephanie Merry (Washington Post) ▼
"Harington's star is on the rise. ... Yet his first starring role doesn't showcase what he can do from an acting standpoint. Harington transformed his body for the role, but here's the real disaster: His startlingly defined six-pack abs are the most memorable part of his character."
Wesley Morris (Grantland) ▼
"Browning often looks like a woman on the brink of an orgasm. It's as if she's trying to out-act the volcano. The eruption starts early and lasts most of the movie. (It's tantric that way.)"
Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 41
Rotten Tomatoes: 31 percent
Length: 104 minutes
Director: Paul W.S. Anderson
Starring Kit Harington, Emily Browning, Jared Harris, Carrie-Anne Moss, Adewale Akkinnuoye-Agbaje, Jessica Lucas, Kiefer Sutherland
CLICK HERE to Try 2 RISK FREE issues of Entertainment Weekly
© 2011 Entertainment Weekly and Time Inc. All rights reserved.