Apocalypto – Movie Review

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Apocalypto was not the movie I thought it was going to be. I expected an epic set in the fabricated history of a lost culture, but Mel Gibson’s pre-Columbian tale is actually more of an action movie (with subtitles). Apocalypto has a bit of a split personality that way. Action movies typically don’t have subtitles (because studios usually don’t expect action movie fans to want to read their movie). Subtitled movies usually deal with deeper human themes and complex emotional conflicts, but not this one. While on one hand bringing the Mayan culture to cinematic life (the actors speak in Yucatec Mayan), this movie only gives us a small glimpse of its most notorious part: the human sacrifice. If you want to learn about Mayan history and what life was like back then, this is not the movie to base your term paper on. The cultural part is essentially the dressing on a classic story of one man’s struggle to fight his enemies and save his family.

Taken captive with most of his village, our young hunter-hero Jaguar Paw stages a very lucky escape after he is spared the sacrificial blade himself. Having gotten on the bad side of the enemy’s head thug (he killed the guy’s favourite son), Jaguar Paw must make his way through the jungle to get back home in time to save his pregnant wife and young son (he stashed them in the bottom of a pit to hide them from the invaders when they first came to the village). Other reviewers have made the obvious cinematic pun of nicknaming this movie “Run Jaguar Paw Run” because like the original Lola of German cinema fame, Jaguar Paw does spend a lot of time running (I found it a bit unbelievable how relentlessly he could run, especially as injured as he was; as well as how relentlessly his pursuers followed him). After a soothing mud bath (I wonder which spa paid for the product placement) he is inspired to fight back in John McLean, “yippy kai yay!” style and as his fight with his pursuers reaches a zenith, they see something in the ocean that takes them all aback. I’m not going to reveal what that is, but you can probably guess. Typical tacked-on poli-historical agenda! (It’s kind of a lame ending.)

Anyway, while I was pretty disappointed with the aforementioned cultural details of the Mayan civilization (I’ve been waiting for a Mayan movie since grade 6, folks!), the chase between the bad guys and Jaguar Paw was pretty exciting. (They even added a bit of peril for the Mrs. Paw and Jaguar Jr. to spice it up a bit.) If you put aside the attempts by Gibson at trying to develop the historical context, it’s not a bad movie. It wasn’t even as bloody or gory as all the reviews make it sound. Yes, there’s head rolling, but from a distance. Yes, there’s ripping out of hearts, but you don’t see the actual ripping, and it looks pretty fake anyway. I was going in to the theatre ready for a hemo-drenched splatterama. It wasn’t that bad, but I was very surprised at the family sitting behind me with a 3 or 4 year old son. (Hey kid, that little boy that they put down the hole to save him from the savage slaughter of all his friends and family kind of looks like you!) OK. Now I’m just being mean. At least there was some educational value: we learned that the Mayans used ant mandibles to create sutures to stitch up open wounds. Those clever Mayans! (OK. That’s the last one.)

From the crowds worshipping at the sacrificial pyramid, to the savage attacks and battles, to Jaguar Paw’s guerrilla tactics to take out the enemy; at the end of the day, no one does brutal, violent action movies set in a past historical context like Mr. Gibson. Don’t let the pretentious title or tag-line fool you (“No one can outrun their destiny” my aztec!). If you’re going to enjoy it, just enjoy those other qualities. (3.5 out of 5)

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18 thoughts on “Apocalypto – Movie Review”

  1. I disagree with your reveiw. I thought Apacolyto was pretty gory, and you would have to have seen A LOT of violence to disagree. I mean, people getting their heads chopped off and their hearts ripped out, is pretty disgusting ven for the average joe. And then seeing human heads being rolled down a stairway like a bowling ball, i mean, c’mon! And no, it is not “kind of a lame ending” I watched this movie with 10 other people, all of which, including me, were on the edge of our seats the whole time. Apacolyto is definatly better then 300, and is border lining epic.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Softballplayer. It’s been a while since I’ve seen the movie, so I can’t remember it all as vividly as you. You may be right, I may have seen too much violence on screen. However, given the amount of hype about the violence of this movie before it came out (people accused it of being pornographically gory), I think it was overblown. When you just describe it as “the ripping out of hearts” or “the chopping off of heads”, there’s no choice but to see it as violent because those are brutal acts. I have no argument with that. I just think that considering the brutality of those acts, it could have been far worse. Compared to your average horror splatterfest or Tarantino film or even Mel’s previous brutal-o-rama Passion of the Christ, I think this was surprisingly careful about what was shown (while still showing something rather than turning the camera away). Finally, if you’re talking about being on the edge of your seats, I think you’re thinking of the climactic chase, which I also found gripping. It was the final moment on the beach when the chase ended that I found lame. Did you find that part epic as well?

  3. I thought this film was the last straw for Gibson. I like to watch films for entertainment, not wanting to watch someone trying to make a point. Gibson painfully draws out the violence in time lenght – this shows he is trying to make a point of the suffering the same as he did in the Passion of Christ. Speilberg didnt do this in Munich or Saving private Ryan – he mixed it up a lot and showed many things going on and didnt show 10mins of chopping up. Gibsons a loon and I wont watch one of his films again.

  4. Unfortunately, Gibson definitely seems to be going further and further down this path. I think there are a lot of good aspects to his directing — I found the fast-paced action parts pretty exciting — but I’m sure all his future projects will have the spectre of excessive violence hanging over them even before anyone has seen a single frame. We viewers will all need to decide (as you already have, SuperIrish) whether or not we can put up with it. Thanks for commenting.

  5. When i saw apocalypto i thought it was pretty messy but as it kept going and going i would never leave the tv off my sight…i have to admit it has been one of the best movies i’ve seen

  6. I agree that it’s messy — bloodier than it needed to be, but the action of the story was very compelling and non-stop once the chase was on.

    Thanks for the comment.

  7. I have been a world history teacher for 27 years and I have never seen a more historically accurate movie. The destruction of a civilization through civil warfare shows the reason why Europeans so easily conquered this region. The language, cultural customs and conflict were dead on. It had to be bloody. Cultures don’t collapse from within if everything is blue skies and everyone is happy.

  8. really … whatever I say …. my words won’t describe this movie ..
    its toooooooo awesome ,,, & I like Mel Gibson too much cause he is a very creative artist …. & want to tell him … ” thank u very much for all every work u made “

  9. Hi Mel Gibson, its a great movie i have ever seen, i must watch again in a biggerscreen. i liked Rudy Youngblood very much. please bring some movies like this. i liked the action & photography

  10. Its a Mel gibson art. A well written Mayan era story with the emotions of a lovely son, husband and the father of two young kids. He doesnt want anything but freedom, the urge to be with his family….the struggle to get out of the darker side of humanity…all composed in a better way. Being a commercial movie, it needed some violence…blood shed and war…..i give 100 marks to Mel gibson. Its a great pleasure to watch a movie in thick jungles…greeneries..than the usual typical movies..

  11. i just saw this movie on saturday i thought that this movie was going 2 be lame but this is a good movie & rudy youngblood played a good part with his sexy self!!!! i realy enjoyed it….

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