After not seeing this film for a long time and remembering next to nothing about it, I thought I would be best to refresh my memory with a rental and subsequent review. I am well aware that normal people don’t think like this.
The film opens on a serene jungle scene. We slowly start zooming in on a massive fern. It’s eerily quiet. Suddenly, a tapir bursts out and runs for its life. After collectively changing their undergarments, the audience are on tenterhooks as we see some Mayan hunters pursue the boar. The frenetic chase goes on at a blistering pace before the tapir buys the farm in the sharp, wooden, spiky booby-trap district. Our hunters start preparing the tapir until one of the hunters convinces another to eat the testicles. Cue much laughing and ball jokes. Welcome to Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto!
Apocalypto is the story of young hunter Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) who lives in peace with his pregnant wife and son in the Mesoamerican rainforest. After his homestead is attacked by Holcane warriors, Jaguar Paw is taken captive alongside most of his village and dragged to the Mayan capital. Our hero must escape the various dangers of the capital to be reunited with his family. The basic story was a bit rubbish if I’m honest. The film’s slow pace didn’t help keep me consistently interested in what was going on. Having said that, I was really impressed by Rudy Youngblood as Jaguar Paw, who had the ability to convey many different things without saying a single word. Talking of words, the decision to have the film’s spoken language as Mayan was a fantastic one. It really adds to the immersion of the film and avoids any god-awful 10,000 B.C-style clangers, such as the infamous line: “Do not eat me when I save your life!”.
Apocalypto‘s cinematography is genuinely stunning. There are some breathtaking shots of the natural landscape and seeing full-scale Mayan cities complete with fuckingmegahuge temples is a real treat. You really get the feeling that Jaguar Paw is out of his depth as he stares in a mixture of awe and terror at these massive edifices. It’s no coincidence that many of the film’s best scenes are located in the capital. In fact, the film seems to tighten up once Jaguar Paw is in the Mayan city, but slacken off again when he inevitably escapes (no, I’m not going to Invisotext that spoiler because it is as obvious as the fucking Sun in the sky that he’s going to escape).
Watching it, it’s easy to guess that the director of Braveheart and The Passion of the Christ is behind what is presented on screen. After all, the violence is brutal and the claret is spilt in a way that only Mr. Sugartits himself can do. However, this brutality is justifiable as it was, quite literally, a jungle out there. There is one chilling scene where Middle Eye (Gerardo Taracena) nonchalantly slits the throat of an elder that will stay with me far longer than the details of the story will. The mere thought of how Apocalypto could have been with the violence- all obviously choreographed fight sequences and over-the-top explosions makes me shudder.
When returning to the jungle, Gibson decides to turn Jaguar Paw into a Mayan Rambo and have him use nature against his pursuers with mixed results. That is “mixed results” as in the film’s quality, not “mixed results” as in he doesn’t fuck them all up. Trouble is I saw it all coming and I wanted to be surprised. I know very little about Mayan culture (and am always interested to learn), but I have seen First Blood. The last thing I wanted to be reminded of when watching a film set eons ago was the misadventures of John Rambo, one man army.
Thing is, Apocalypto is very self-indulgent. It’s a beautiful film to look at, but the story is pretty weak. When it came down to it, I didn’t really care what happened and taking nearly 2 and a half hours to tell a semi-rubbish story is silly.