About a half-hour into Paul W.S. Anderson's Pompeii, the film's protagonist - a gladiator-turned-slave amusingly named Milo - hears the unfamiliar sound of the nearby Mount Vesuvius preparing to erupt. "It is the mountain," says Milo's comrade Atticus. "It grumbles from time to time." So do movie reviewers, and this latest 3D action spectacle by the director of Mortal Kombat, Death Race, and a trio of Resident Evil flicks would, at first glance, appear to be exactly the sort of thing I'd personally grumble about: a predictably corny, derivative, overscaled costume party with loads of generic violence and nothing in the way of subtlety or emotional nuance.
Yet while it's easy to name the movie's most direct influences, Gladiator and Titanic chief among them, what I didn't at all expect was for this swords-and-sandals outing to be so thoroughly, cheerfully indebted to 1970s disaster epics in the vein of The Towering Inferno and The Poseidon Adventure; Pompeii, to its cheeky credit, is kind of like 1974's Earthquake with the ancient Roman city cast in the role of Los Angeles.