Movie Review: Apocalypto

apocalyptoYou have to hand it to Mel Gibson. Sure, the man is the Grand Poohbah of crazy, along with every other euphemism for ‘nuts’ that they use in the chorus to Pink Floyd’s “The Trial,” but while his convictions have led him to make some profane declarations of late, you cannot deny that the man has onions. Is he really following his Jesus snuff film “The Passion of the Christ” with a tale about the fall of the Mayan empire, spoken entirely in Mayan? And he’s paying for it himself? Do you need a wheelbarrow for those stones you’re carrying around, Detective Riggs?

But balls and money will only get you so far. There is no question that Gibson is a competent filmmaker – and he has the Oscar to prove it – but if anyone in Hollywood could use some guidance, it is surely Gibson, and “Apocalypto” suffers from not having that helping hand that he desperately needs. It’s too long, unnecessarily graphic, and surprisingly plot-free for a two hour-plus movie.

Rudy Youngblood stars as Jaguar Paw, a simple hunter in a jungle village that is savagely attacked by an invading tribe. Jaguar Paw is able to hide his pregnant wife and child from the invaders, but is taken prisoner in the process. The prisoners are taken into “town” and offered up as sacrifices in an attempt to appease the starving, angry masses. But Jaguar Paw has Other Plans, dunt dunt duuuuuuunh.

This is going to sound completely ridiculous, but I swear it’s true: this Mayan adventure begins like a Three Stooges episode (props to Mark Pfeiffer for that line), and ends like “First Blood.” Seriously, the villagers are playing pranks on each other and playing other assorted Quien es Mas Macho games, and when the hunt is on in Act Three, you will wonder where Sylvester Stallone is hiding. What any of this has to do with the fall of the Mayan empire is anyone’s guess. It appears that Gibson was suggesting that the Mayans should have worked together for the greater good instead of killing the poor for sport, which might have given them a fighting chance against the Crusaders. Or maybe he’s saying that there’s no stopping the God Squad, so the Mayans were doomed from the start. Whatever his point may have been, it’s difficult to care. Everyone’s life expectancy is pre-ordained in the first ten minutes; it’s only a matter of time for the unlucky ones to meet their fate. I guarantee that someone is going to create a theory that the plot is about the current situation in Iraq, but that simply ain’t the case.

And let’s talk about bloody. “Apocalypto” is pornographically violent. One man’s throat is slit, and my lack of response to such an act shocked me. One character has blood spurting from a wound in his head, and my wife later said it reminded her of the Julia Child skit on “Saturday Night Live.” All of these deaths could have taken place with a tenth of the bloodshed, of course, but Gibson wants you to feel it, damn it. In a shocking turn of events for a Gibson movie, however, no one was tortured, unless you count the guy who watched as his heart beat for the last time.

Does Gibson expect “Apocalypto” to make the same bushels of coin that “The Passion” did? He’s a fool if he does, and it has nothing to do with the quality of the movie, or lack thereof. This could have been the best damn Mayan gorefest ever made, but it still isn’t going to connect with many people. On the plus side, it was certainly more tolerable than “The New World,” Terrence Malick’s end-of-a-civilization movie, so it has that going for it.

2.5 out of 5 stars (2.5 / 5)

This originally ran December 8, 2006 on

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