Apocalypto (2006)
Apocalypto (2006)

Genre: Adventure Running Time: 2 hrs. 19 min.

Release Date: December 8th, 2006 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Mel Gibson Actors: Rudy Youngblood, Dalia Hernandez, Morris Birdyellowhead, Raoul Trujillo, Gerardo Taracena, Ricardo Diaz Mendoza

 


 

C

omplete with perilous waterfall jumps, jaguar maulings, and sacrificial beheadings (not unlike “Predator” if it were based in reality), Mel Gibson’s latest effort returns to his epic approach toward storytelling through shockingly magnificent imagery and transportive, wholly immersive environments (here, the Mesoamerican rainforest). And the writer/director’s mastery of suspense and action will certainly leave audiences at the edges of their seats. It’s a tour de force of makeup, costuming, sound mixing/editing, suspense, and violence that thunderingly evolves from a story of unyielding survival into a passionate triumph of courage and revenge – and a glimpse at the undoing of a civilization.

The tale is simple, yet surprisingly powerful. A peaceful Mayan village is attacked by invading forces, leaving Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) cruelly separated from his family (but not before hiding his wife and child in a well) and sent to a fantastical city built on blood, fear, and oppression – where he is to become a human sacrifice to the gods. A twist of fate offers him a chance to escape, and with his unwavering determination and bravery, he embarks on a bloody odyssey through unforgiving terrain to rejoin his loved ones. But as he’s savagely pursued by his enemies, Jaguar Paw must utilize the skillful prowess and cunning tricks taught to him by his father and peers to evade capture and certain doom.

Though masked by the unique setting of a 16th-century Mayan culture, “Apocalypto” is still a very human story, bestowed with an impressive familiarity thanks to a talented ensemble of relatively unknown actors (cast for their authentic, indigenous roots). Facial piercings, tattooing, and foreign languages cannot hide the human qualities of love, hatred, mettle, and fear that bring to life this stunning adventure, in which good guys are good, bad guys are most definitely bad, and death is as brutally vivid as possible. While the average viewer may be put off by reading subtitles, the harsh language of Yucatec Maya adds an authenticity to the proceedings that would have been unattainable if substituted or dubbed. The speech and culture of this archaeological people may differ vastly from any of today, but the assemblage of convincing talent creates relatable personas that transcend foreign ways of life.

As with Gibson’s previous film (“The Passion of the Christ”), the visuals tell more story than any amount of dialogue could ever hope to. A society is brought to life with bold settings, ranging from huts of grass and tree branches to towering temples of stone. Paintings and ornaments grace the outer city, while decapitated heads and bloody stairways decorate the sacrificial pyramids within. Primitively beautiful costumes of animal skins and human bones adorn the inhabitants of this mysterious domain. More drastic piercings and heavy scarring separate the protagonists from the antagonists, while each character possesses individualistic hairstyles, costuming, and weaponry.

It seems Gibson has always had a penchant for severe bloodletting in his films, and “Apocalypto” is no exception. This time around, however, the violence emphasizes the evils of men and the formidableness of nature, while also providing adequate means to satisfy the thirst for revenge. Several of the villains are so vile, in fact, that to see them meet their demise peacefully would surely be a letdown. Though not for the squeamish, the viscerally charged carnage adds a degree of realism and a raw intensity to the animalistic perseverance of the hunted. It is, after all, a chase movie, stripped of all technological advancements and vehicular ornamentation. “Apocalypto” may not be a fundamentally new beginning for Gibson’s artistry, but he continues to tackle historically-tinged, grand-scale adventures unlike anything before them. Inaccuracies in portrayals or excessive creative liberties aside, the filmmaker is undeniably adept at drawing viewers into his cinematic world, populated by strong performances, nonstop action, and riveting conflicts.

– The Massie Twins

  • 8/10