One Mayan his jaguar.
So then. Mel Gibson. Is he simply misunderstood, or is he gradually becoming Lethal Weapon's mentally unbalanced Martin Riggs? On the evidence of his latest movie Apocalypto it's difficult to say either way, but one thing it does most definitely confirm is that Mr. Gibson likes to see people getting fucked up. Big time. Fortunately the people involved aren't Jewish, so recent anti-semitic faux pas firmly to one side, just what is all this Apocalypto jazz about? It didn't bode well that recent TV advertising featured Gibson himself popping up during the trailer to explain just that, especially when his posturing seems overly grand for what is essentially an escape movie.
Basically, some savage Mayan warriors in need of human sacrifices to appease their god ransack the village of a peaceful neighbouring tribe, butchering, raping and taking captive it's inhabitants. One such chap is Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), who only narrowly manages to lower his pregnant wife and son to safety in a cave before the ruckus kicks off proper. Carted away with his fellow villagers to the technologically sophisticated yet socially brutal town of their captors, Jaguar Paw is forced to overcome his fears and attempt a ballsy escape in the hope of reuniting with his spelunking relatives. And that's about it. There's some of the nonsense Gibson expounds in his press pieces about civilisations destroying themselves from within, the passage to manhood and yadda, yadda, yadda... but it's all incredibly superficial and contextually irrelevant. The fact of the matter is that Apocalypto has more in common with something like Wrong Turn (I shudder at the thought) than it does Gibson's own Braveheart, although admittedly they do share a strong mutual disregard for historic fact. Essentially some nasty mass murderers capture some folk, one of them breaks free, runs for a bit then decides to turn the tables. End of.
So then, if we can cast aside any pretence of deep moral, social or theological comment, does Apocalypto stand on it's own two feet as an action adventure number? For the most part the answer is, surprisingly, yes. The first thing worth pointing out is that despite almost every inch of press coverage I've digested harping on about how relentlessly brutal a film this is, the truth is that it's nowhere near as explicit as something like Saving Private Ryan or even Braveheart. If Gladiator can get away with a 15 certificate here in the UK then there seems little justification in slapping Apocalypto with an 18, even if we do get to see the odd heart cut from chest or face being mauled by a jaguar (that's definitely "mauled" by the way, not "ripped off" as most critics seem to think). Gibson, in all his bloodlust, has actually crafted a fairly effective slice of entertainment which nips along far more quickly than it's running time would suggest, and so long as you weren't expecting deep philosophical ruminations on the impending extinction of a relatively advanced yet socially primal culture you are unlikely to be asking for a refund.
Of course that's not the same as saying "this film is excellent", which it most certainly is not, but with some great cinematography and strong performances throughout there's certainly more than just a vicious streak to recommend it to Joe Public. A lot of people are no doubt going to be put off by the fact the whole thing is spoken in Mayan dialects with subtitles throughout, but as always my message to those people would be "evolve"; heaven forbid you should have to use your brain, eh? Overall Apocalypto is far from likely to set the world alight, but if you can forgive Gibson his drunken indiscretions long enough to take a peek you may find yourself pleasantly surprised, even if the experience is nowhere near as deep as you were expecting. And the jaguar bit is pure quality, by the way. Trust me.
I award this movie 3 out of 5 Disko Units.
Dalia Hernandez (Seven)
Jonathan Brewer (Blunted)