Mixing up the disaster movie genre with some classic swords and sandals action and adventure shouldn't be something that is difficult to get wrong, but Paul W.S. Anderson doesn't exactly have a lot of flair for genre movies outside the guilty pleasure that is Even Horizon. Giving him a little benefit of the doubt for what seemed to be an easy opportunity for some schlock and spectacle didn't bear much fruit unfortunately, in a movie chock full of passable effects sequences, half baked clichés and acting that ranges for complete ham to complete rubbish. The bits that work are entertaining enough and when things are moving at a fair pace it's easy enough to watch, but there is a whole lot of dead weight dragging it down well before the suffocating ash buries the principle cast.
Some of the elements aren't so bad. Carrie Anne-Moss doesn't do anything too upsetting, while Jared Harris does a solid job as her husband the ruler of the city, channeling his dad Richard quite nicely at times which suits the period. Kiefer Sutherland as their guest on the other hand has the job of antagonising them during his stay as a senator from Rome who is at first in town to survey the local festival as they discuss financial offerings, but of course soon reveals his more sinister interest in their daughter. It's the kind of over acting that can be cringe-worthy at times, while at others brings a desperate lease of life to the proceedings. The problem is of course the daughter in question (Emily Browning) and the object her own affection, the newly recruited gladiator Kit Harrington. They are both incredibly wooden, and as the expressionless and dead eyed romance blossoms that volcanic eruption can't come soon enough. The love between classes is a big enough cliché by itself, but the lack of charisma from both parties makes things even more awkward. Harrington gives a pseudo gruff performance worthy of Orlando Bloom; at least it raises a few unintended laughs I suppose. The rest of the plot is paper thin, but then this is a story in which the leading man knows how to handle horses in spite of being a slave all his life... because his dead family were a horse tribe. Really.
The arena rivalry subplot brings a little color to things as the contenders butt heads, and there are a handful of action set pieces that steal from Gladiator but lack the finesse or grit. Once Vesuvius finally starts to grumble the geological aftermath is mostly watchable with buildings cracking, pumice stones hitting extras and an eventual tsunami hitting the docks. While details like this suggest they did some research into the events which buried the area, it's a stretch to believe any cartoon fireballs came shooting out of the volcano to squash specific characters, and the level of horror is pretty minimal for such a terrifying event. The problem is they didn't offer much in terms of entertainment when they were alive, and what other elements of historical detail could have been used are replaced with soap opera family antics and melodrama. Go and watch the made for TV feature Pompeii: The Last Day instead.
In what might have been obnoxious update of an older property, the all new CGI version of Michael Bond's sandwich eating bear does a fair job of reusing the older elements within a contemporary setting. The cast playing his adoptive family the Browns have enough charm even if the London setting is over reliant on tourist shots and primary colours at times. The effects which create the title character are not too convincing but do a good enough job of adding personality, as does the voice of Ben Wishaw (though I'd liked to have heard Colin Firth's version). There is a little too much slapstick and gross out humour in some places but they don't push it too far, though I suppose once scene that features some pretty silly innuendo feels out of place. It could have done with a lot more wit instead of just visual gags, though it's not entirely absent. The biggest issue here is Nicole Kidman who seems to have dropped in from another movie to provide an unnecessary villain who wants Paddington for a taxidermy piece, it feels like a lazy way to get a star actor while at the same time upping the stakes, which really wasn't required in this kind of story. Peter Capaldi on the other hand is wasted as the meddling next door neighbour Mr. Curry - the kind of curtain twitching cheapskate who would have made for a far more interesting, and small scale domestic antagonist.