Unless you're an expert in Mayan history, this film is like digging up an old, intriguing-looking fork on one of those amateur archaeological digs. Until an expert actually examines it for you, you simply don't know what the heck you have.
So given Mel Gibson's rather underdeveloped sense of history (do we REALLY know whether he's convinced the Holocaust happened?), having him make what amounts to "The Mayan Fugitive" is like letting Ann Coulter write a biography of Karl Marx.
However, it's clear Mel does understand two things very well: Hollywood and violence. If ever a film that needed to parlay these two things actually did parlay them, "Apocalypto" is it. It's an adventure. It's a chase film. It's a Hollywood adventure chase film. It just happens to be set in Central America in the early 16th century and there are subtitles.
Gibson introduces us to an idyllic jungle community where the inhabitants live, hunt, and joke. Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) is a leader, seemingly taking that responsibility from his father. He has a pregnant wife (Dalia Hernandez) and a young son. All this is turned upside-down when invaders come, burn the village to the ground, and take everyone hostage. Their leader is the menacing Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo).
Jaguar Paw and his fellow villagers are taken to the city where Gibson begins his speculation about what may have brought the Mayans down: conceit, famine, slavery, unnecessary ritual sacrifice, and of course, the Jews. Okay, sorry, there are no Jews, but it does point to the kind of pall Gibson has cast over himself. Is there any way to watch this film unaware of his late behavior?
"Apocalypto" takes an unfortunate turn when Jaguar Paw manages to escape almost certain death. This guy encounters coincidence like Britney Spears' crotch encounters cameras. Indeed, the film does become "The Mayan Fugitive." Hell, there's even a trip over a waterfall. And once this happens, the ridiculousness mounts and mounts.
First we learn that Jaguar Paw is fast enough to outrun an actual Jaguar. In reality, man gets out of tree and runs. Jaguar gets out of tree and chases. One second later, man is eaten. Also, Jaguar Paw dodges arrows much like Neo dodges bullets in "The Matrix." Gibson even wrings some suspense from the old "he looks dead but he's not really dead" trick using a monkey - a trick I always associate with the end of "Diehard."
Gibson certainly knows how to ramp up the gore too. Every arrow puncture, ax contact, animal bite - every one of these events is accompanied by extra blood, extra sounds, and extra tissue. Clearly, nobody does sacrifice like Mel Gibson.
So, take your pick: "The Mayan Fugitive", "The Mayan Matrix", "Mayan Diehard"; on its surface, "Apocalypto" seems new and exotic, but underneath it's pure Hollywood
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