Apocalypto is the most joyfully gory action movie in years. It makes Hostel look tame. If there’s a deeper meaning to all this, I didn’t get it, but I sure enjoyed the clever ways Mel Gibson executed cinematic violence.
Movie Review: Apocalypto
The first impressions you get from the Mayan culture are that they’re very similar to us. They have annoying in-laws like us, they play pranks on each other like us. They’re also like Riggs with the pranks, and like Mad Max in the way they get their families attacked and tortured until they exact their bloody revenge.
The bulk of the movie centers on an attacking clan taking Jaguar Paw’s village hostage. They sell the women and sacrifice the men. The attack on the village is brutal, vicious, clever and unique in all the ways the native warriors find to cause harm.
Their journey in slavery is full of treacherous close calls. Their binds create additional hassles traversing narrow cliffs, and the captors are just mean, drinking water in front of the captives and taunting them. They really act like Nazis toying with their prisoners in the holocaust. At least according to the way it was portrayed in Schindler’s List. Perhaps Mel is inspired by that culture after all. The Jewish culture. What did you think I meant?
From the jungles to the Mayan city, Apocalypto portrays a full, rich world. It transports you into the past, so when Jaguar Paw makes his escape and goes First Blood on his enemies, it’s all happening in a world that exists.
Let’s talk about the violence now. There is not a single act that just shows a little blood. Nobody just gets stabbed. You see their organs oozing and hear the squishy gurgling. You can almost see the gore gags coming because they’re so effectively set up, but Gibson is expert enough to throw out plenty of surprises. By the end, it’s like “Come on, already. Are you really showing this in a movie?” Blood sprays from holes that could easily convey death without splatter, and a pregnancy bit is just outrageous. Every bit of it is absolutely gratuitous, and that makes it fun. There’s a reason gore films are popular. It could be the cinematic manipulation or it could just be the visceral thrill, but that’s what Apocalypto is and it should embrace itself as such.
The film so gladly borrows from the action movie tradition, it shouldn’t make any pretense to being original. Already the parallels to Lethal Weapon (torture) and Mad Max (revenge) are there. There’s also the Butch and Sundance waterfall, the bad guys whose marksmanship is expert on everyone except the hero and even one cliché we haven’t seen in decades. It’s a joy to see a master action hero regale us with his ultimate story.
Relating to each character is not a problem. Besides their distinct personalities, they each have unique visual appearances with their different jewels. The slaughter of the village is plenty tragic, so despite the familiar theme, it works as needed for essentially a revenge tale.
The language feels authentic. I don’t know if the action is any more exciting because of it, or if the story would have had less impact in English.
There are some boring parts, like waiting for all the ceremonial mumbling. It sure relishes in the crowded city shots when all we’re really doing is waiting for Jaguar Paw to make his escape. But there’s not too much of that. It’s pretty fast paced. I’m just amazed all the Mayans’ packages stayed covered with all their running and jumping.