If you’re looking for terse action and dynamic filmmaking, Mel Gibson’s latest foray into violence might be right up your alley. Just prepare yourself for a sizeable amount of sadism, bludgeoning and gore thrown in for good measure. If you want a true art film or a well-thought-out dogma look elsewhere.The film introduces us to hunter Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngeblood), a tribesman living in the Mesoamerican jungle. His existence is idyllic: Jaguar Paw’s village prospers and he lives with his pregnant wife and child in peace and harmony.
Utopia quickly turns into hell however, when raiders led by Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo) burn the village to the ground, slaughter the elders and take the men and women prisoners. Jaguar Paw manages to hide his family in an empty well before he is caught.
Jaguar Paw and the other adults in the village are marched through the jungle and taken to a barren city where the women are sold into slavery and the men are to be sacrificed.
Through one of the most bizarre and improbable Deus ex machinas imaginable, Jaguar Paw escapes and is pursued by Zero Wolf and his band of warriors. Jaguar Hunter must simultaneously fight off the evil warriors and save his trapped family from certain death.
“Apocalypo” is both ambitious and beautiful. Historians and archeologists have debated the accuracy of the film, but Gibson does a beautiful job of transferring his audience to a new world without alienating them. Whether we’re in the Mesoamerican jungle or the bleak Mayan city, the environment feels very real. Despite the film’s technical proficiency, however, looking for meaning in it will only muddy the waters.
Gibson’s film appears on the surface to be an indictment of manifest destiny and reckless consumerism. The film begins with the quote by historian Will Durant, “"A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within,” and presents Mayan civilization as abandoning all ethics and morals in favor of wealth and pleasure.
One wonders if Gibson truly believes that if the Mayans were all peaceful vegetarians frolicking in the woods, the conquistadors never would have invaded.
The overt theme is a false message designed to mask the real theme of the picture: How delightful it is to watch Good exact a violent revenge on Evil. “Apocalypto” is artistic, but at its core is a vigilante film with themes similar to “Rambo III” and “Braddock: Missing in Action 2.” The film may be exciting and engaging but as a code of ethics it falls flat.“Apocalypto,” like Gibson’s previous two directorial efforts, deals the notion of violence invading men’s lives. Gibson enjoys making movies where kind and peaceful protagonists find their worlds utterly decimated by a brutal sadistic enemy who tortures without a moment’s hesitation. Whether his films are in English, Latin, Aramaic or Yucatec, the real language is that of masculinity personified in the face of emotionless evil.