What a fucking waste of time. I have loved Mel Gibson since Mad Max and Lethal Weapon but I have to say that Apocalypto was completely pointless. Apart from showcasing his talents as a director and capturing some stunning scenery, I do not think there was anything substantial this film had to offer. Set during the decline of the ancient Mayan civilization, the film depicts the struggle of a young tribesman as he crosses over from adolescence into adulthood. Like in ‘The Passion’ where Gibson used Aramic throughout the film, the entire script of ‘Apocalypto’ is in the Yukatek Maya language. I do enjoy the authenticity this offers but once again, it was pointless.
There was quite a bit of buzz before this film was released in December 2006, mostly due to the fact that Gibson’s last film was so controversial. This is probably why I and other viewers were expecting a more significant work from him, which in turn made this new release seem even more irrelevant. Some people might argue that it is not fair to critique this film by referencing ‘The Passion’ but I believe that Gibson is spreading his wings as a director and his films come under scrutiny as one body of work. It is like when Scorsese makes a shit film, I will compare it to every other good or bad film he has made. And art in many ways is like a window into the artist’s soul. But that being said, if you are looking for some insight into Gibson’s thoughts or beliefs you will not find it in Apocalypto.
The film opens with a quote from Will Durant, “A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within.” At this point I thought the film would be about some European invasion but until now I still can not figure out what this quote has to do with the film. The main character, Jaguar Paw, early in the film witnesses an exodus of villagers moving through his jungle. They are badly wounded and obviously scared. Returning to his village he has a look of shock in his face and his father turns to him and warns him not to bring this fear into the village because it is contagious, of course in a much more poetic manner. It was a good scene and good script that I likened to the state of the world we live in today, where we have witnessed horror and are forced to live in fear, where that fear has damaged our ability to enjoy life. At this point I found the film interesting but that was the first and last consequential moment Gibson had to offer.
After giving us some insight into village life which I have seen better depictions of on Natural Geographic, the film plunged into blood drenched barbaric battle sequences. Gibson does not fall short of flashing horrific images of savages dangling babies by their feet or warriors crushing the skulls of their opponents with blunt weapons. The film was quickly turning into an Aztec version of Braveheart. The pace of the film was good as the hero is captured and eventually escapes only to be chased and hunted by his enemies. The cinematography is commendable at various points but for the most part the film could have been shot in a warehouse filled with plants and trees. The story line suddenly turns mystical without any foundation when the animals of the jungle decide to save the young hero and then the climax of the film is just stupid. Just as he is inevitably about to fall into the hands of his captors, they loose interest in him and focus all their attention on some ships floating out at sea.
Maybe if I had no expectations of this movie or I had just expected to see some full blown action flick, I might have enjoyed Apocalypto, but have heard so many good things about I just felt stupid. What the fuck am I missing here? People are all talking about how this film is about the demise of the Maya empire and I saw nothing of that. There was no focus on the ancient cultures and traditions of the empire, only glimpses that would make sense to people who already know something of the history. For a person who has no exposure it might as well be completely sc-fi. I actually was not even sure the film was set in South America until halfway through when I saw the temples. Over all I can describe this film in 3 words. Waste Of Time!!!