Apocalypto – a Pretty Good Movie – And Not Quite The Bloodbath They’d Have You Believe!

Apocalypto One SheetDespite headlines like "Mel Indulges His Bloodlust," there's less blood in Apocalypto tan in two reels of some low-budget, exploitation horror flick like, say, Hostel – and Apocalypto tells a far more interesting [if basic] story…

Boiled down to its essence, Apocalypto is the story of one man's attempt to stay alive and save the lives of his wife and son – and that kind of personal level is where the film works best. The idea of a decadent, dying civilization standing the way of that man, Jaguar Paw [Rudy Youngblood], simply provides a series of obstacles for Jaguar Paw to survive.

The film opens with Jaguar Paw and a band of hunters from his village as they hunt and kill a tapir. The celebration includes the usual congratulations and a practical joke that sets up one man, Blunted [Jonathan Brewer] as the subject of constant teasing for being unable to impregnate his wife. The practical jokes continue when they return home, but seem reasonably good-natured – and they make Blunted a sympathetic character.

That night, the village is raided and those men and women who aren't killed, are tied up and trotted off to a city – but not before Jaguar Paw manages to hide his wife, Sky Flower [Iazua Larios] and son, Turtles Run [Carlos Emilio Baez] in a hole in the ground. Along the route back to the city, the villagers and their captors encounter a little girl who, they discover, has "the Sickness." She prophesies that "the man who runs with the Jaguar" will lead them to their doom – and that they should "beware the blackness of the day."

Jaguar Paw

When they reach the city, the Mayan capital as it turns out, the female villagers are taken to a slave auction while the men are painted blue and taken to the main temple to be sacrificed – which is where fate [in the form of a solar eclipse] steps in, leading to Jaguar Paw's opportunity to escape. The rest of the film is about vengeance on two fronts: that of Jaguar Paw, who needs to save his family, and that of the Mayan commander who led the assault on Jaguar Paw's village.

Apocalypto suggests that the Mayan empire fell to the Spanish because it was a decadent society that was on the verge disintegrating through its arrogance and disdain for its own people. That suggestion is made through the opening, pretentious, use of a quote about the nature of societies that succumb to invasion from outside – and from an ending that is more than a little cheesy [the films one truly major flaw].

Actually, Apocalypto is an action flick, filled with chases and fighting, and sacrifices. Oddly, after the early reviews, I was expecting to see men's hearts actually ripped from their chests, and beheadings onscreen. In that respect, I am pleased to note that we may see hearts raised from quivering bodies, but the actual slicing and cutting is obscured by camera angles – the same with the beheadings. Of course, there is a lot of blood – you can't get around that – but, as I said above, a lot less than in most modern horror movies.

Apocalypto - Mayan Priest

Where the film really excels is in the action. There are fight sequences and chases that will leave you breathless. There are stunts that are exceedingly cool [the waterfalls sequence works especially well]. Thanks to some very good performances, from a mostly non-actor cast, it is possible to relate to many of the characters – even some of the Mayan soldiers.

The scenery is lush and gorgeous; the temple sets are splendid [taken apart from their function, they are stunningly beautiful]. Whether you buy into Gibson's assertion that the film is a parable about today's situations [and there is enough substance to Apocalypto to make that a very small leap], he has directed one of the year's better action films. Every scene – every cut – propels the story, and Gibson manages what so many action directors fail to do: he directs his action sequences in ways that also give added insight into the characters.

You'll notice that I haven't mentioned the subtitles until now. There's a reason for that. There is very little exposition in the dialogue, so the dialogue is almost all character stuff. The subtitles are remarkably easy to follow; no section of dialogue lasts more a few seconds – just enough to make character points, and hit action beats. Even people who hate subtitles will have no problem with them here.

Apocalypto not an Oscar


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