(Canada/Germany - 2014)
Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson. Written by Janet Scott Batchler, Lee Batchler, and Michael Robert Johnson. Cast: Kit Harington, Carrie-Anne Moss, Kiefer Sutherland, Emily Browning, Jared Harris, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Jessica Lucas, Joe Pingue, Sasha Roiz, Currie Graham. (PG-13, 105 mins)
In the 20 years since his 1994 debut SHOPPING, Paul W.S. Anderson has been an unabashedly style-over-substance filmmaker both reviled as a hack and a charlatan and praised as an unsung visionary. He first gained attention for 1995's video-game adaptation MORTAL KOMBAT, which led to SHOPPING getting a belated US release in 1996 courtesy of Roger Corman. EVENT HORIZON (1997) and SOLDIER (1998) quickly followed, but it was 2002's RESIDENT EVIL that seems to have set the course for his career. A hit worldwide, RESIDENT EVIL spawned its own sequel (2004's RESIDENT EVIL: APOCALYPSE) that Anderson handed off to the hapless Alexander Witt so he could instead focus on 2004's AVP: ALIEN VS. PREDATOR, a botched misfire that proved to the nadir of two legendary franchises, with one of the most tragically prophetic tag lines ("Whoever wins, we lose") ever plastered on a one-sheet. The miserable AVP essentially killed any momentum Anderson might've had going, and he's been fighting against the backlash since. Even as the terrifying EVENT HORIZON has found a significant cult following after being met with shrugs 17 years ago, and SOLDIER seems a bit better now than it did then, there hasn't been and likely will not be a reassessment of AVP. It's a terrible movie with almost no redeeming qualities, but it's well past the time to stop making it Anderson's albatross.
score. Anderson's been working exclusively in 3-D since, and he's proven to be one of the few directors to consistently use the frequently superfluous gimmick effectively. Anderson's 2011 reimagining of THE THREE MUSKETEERS boasted some astonishing production design but no one really needed a PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN-inspired take on Dumas, and 2012's RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION was OK but felt like AFTERLIFE leftovers. Anderson's had moments of greatness in his career but I don't know that I'd go so far as to call him a "visionary." One term that's often used to describe many of his films is "guilty pleasure," and I've even described them that way myself, as if it's necessary to justify enjoying an entertaining movie. But it begs the question: how many guilty pleasures does the guy have to make before he finally gets credit as a capable genre craftsman?
If you aren't a fan of Anderson's past work, this isn't likely to change your opinion, but if you can take his films at face value and just appreciate his newest effort for the commercial genre fare that it is, POMPEII makes for a good guilty ple...uh, I mean, entertaining popcorn movie that you shouldn't have to concoct excuses for enjoying.