Apocalypto is about a small village that's led by Flint Sky (Morris Birdyellowhead) and his son Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) in the lush, but equally deadly Mesoamerican rainforest. One day while they're all out hunting, the warriors come across another tribe that's been scattered by a group of ruthless Mayan slave traders. Jaguar Paw is unsettled by their warnings, but Flint Sky opts for a more patient approach and to consult their gods on what they should do. Before they can come to a decision the slave traders descend upon their village with extreme prejudice. Razing their small and humble village to the ground, essentially wiping out one of many unique tribes in the area while they're on one of their numerous 'expeditions', all in order to satiate their blood hungry god who demands human sacrifices on a daily basis. When Jaguar Paw manages to flee the Mayans in order to get back to his wife and child he left behind, he finds himself in a race for not only his own life, but of those he loves as well.
All of the components of Apocalypto are meticulously crafted. I was stunned at the attention to detail that went into every single scene. I didn't spot any glaring anachronisms, though I'm no expert on Mesoamerican history. Whoever was in charge of the costumes, the sets, the wardrobe and the make-up should have gotten an Oscar nomination for all their hard work. It was unbelievable. The hair, the piercings, the tattoos, the jewelry, the armor, the weapons, the wardrobe of the Mayan hierarchy, everything. It was all individualized and unique to each character too. The time it must have taken to not only come up with the concepts and designs, but to make the costumes and armor, and then to apply all the tattoos and make-up on all the actors is mind-blowing.
The casting was perfection as well. From Rudy Youngblood as the conflicted, but determined leader to a tribe that's on the verge of extinction, and is also a husband to Seven (Dalia Hernandez) and father to Turtles Run (Carlos Emilio Baez). To Raoul Max Trujillo as 'Zero Wolf', the innately scary and fearsome leader of the Mayan slave traders, and to Gerardo Taracena as the sadistic 'Middle Eye'. Not only was the casting done right, but they spoke a Mayan language throught the movie too. It all adds to the frighteningly authentic experience of the movie. I think this is one of the major things that separates great directors from mediocre directors, the ability to take us on a journey, to immerse us in a fictional world. I think I used this distinction before when I compared Jurassic Park (Steven Spielberg) to Jurassic World (Colin Trevorrow). Sure, Jurassic World looked pretty enough and it hit many of the same beat of the original, but I never once felt like I was being absorbed into the movie like I was with Jurassic Park. Another example would be The Terminator (James Cameron) and Terminator: Genisys (Alan Taylor). Point being, some directors just don't have that ability to transport us to another time and place, but Mel Gibson does. I honestly believe a lot of it comes down to passion, attention to detail, and a thorough pre-production, but that's broad strokes.
The cinematography is generally gorgeous, but was a little inconsistent I thought. The framing could occasionally be really odd and the editing could be a bit quick in places as well. I probably would have toned down the slow motion too, but these are all minor nitpicks. The movie was filmed on location, and most of the effects were done practically, which again, helped the tangibility and palpable atmosphere of the movie along quite well. The story, while admittedly being somewhat simplistic as it's not much more than a chase movie in essence, is anything but trite. Apocalypto offers us a fascinating and compelling glimpse into this little known, but powerful empire in its tailspin.
I find Apocalypto to be a movie of two halves. The first half being an anthropological study of various Mesoamerican tribes and empires, while also not shying away from the violence of the times. I hear Apocalypto has been criticized for its over-the-top violence according to some, but I didn't find it over-the-top at all, only suitably violent considering the time and circumstances it was set in. There was no Geneva Convention back then. It was kill or be killed. While in the second half it turned into an exhilarating chase movie where the protagonist had to use all his knowledge of the jungle to escape his pursuers. Apocalypto is an amazing movie that elevates a relatively simple premise into a suspense filled and adrenaline pumping run through the jungle. It's just a shame Mel Gibson doesn't do more directing. I would donate my liver to see Mel Gibson direct his long gestating Viking movie!
Written by - The Sentry - 15/07/2016