Apocalypto is Gibson’s often mesmerizing and beautiful fictional epic about the Mayan civilization. While the use of subtitles and unknown actor’s does not detract from the movie, the extreme and unrelenting violence does. In the opening scene we see the tribe hunting and sharing the organs of the dead animal among the tribe. The death of the animal is vividly depicted and made me wish for some of the subtlety and beauty of the hunt in the beginning of the Last of the Mohicans, instead. The unexpected arrival of another tribe asking for passage through the forest leave a cloud of uncertainty over Jaguar Paw (an impressive debut by Native American, Rudy Youngblood) and Flint Sky, (Birdyellowhead) his father and one of the village leaders, We are given a glimpse into daily life and an opportunity to connect with some of the tribe before they are attacked by a fierce tribe who take the survivors captives and leave the young children to fend for themselves. Jaguar Paw manages to hide his very pregnant wife, Seven (Dalia Hernandez) and son in a deep pit before getting caught himself. He vows to return for them. The captives are shackled and forced on a grueling journey from their forest home to the Mayan city where slave-traders bargain for the women and the captives wonder about their fate. The women are sold as slaves and the men are painted blue before a high priest decapitates them and sends their heads rolling down the steps of a temple.(The removal of organs is reminiscent of Braveheart.) Later on we find out this is an offering to the god(s) to overcome problems with crop failure and disease. It is such a pity that the brutality and barbarity was our only glimpse of the once great Mayan culture and their accomplishments in astronomy, mathematics and architecture. Only a solar eclipse (strange how this mystifies a culture so knowledgeable in astronomy) saves him from the altar. The fate of the survivors is put into the hands of the warriors, who force them to run a gauntlet as they attempt to kill them with arrows and spears. Wounded, Jaguar Paw escapes only to be chased through the jungle by the warriors. They are relentless and the action sequences that follow are beautifully photographed and choreographed despite the implausibility of, among other things, a wounded Jaguar Paw outrunning a black panther. There is no doubt that Gibson knows how to make a movie and the actors did an impressive job but it could have been so much better. It’s a case of less would have been so much more. I found the ending anticlimactic since it didn’t really get to why the Mayans died out. There is just a suggestion of the Spanish conquest, but I’m not sure, which left me dissatisfied with the movie.
Rating: 2 Stars