Three years on from The Passion of the Christ, Mel Gibson returns to the director’s chair for a brutal action thriller set against the backdrop of the fall of the Mayan empire.
When a savage tribe decimates a peaceful village, Jaguar Paw (Youngblood) is taken hostage while his pregnant wife and young child are left stranded in an underground pit with no food or water.
After a lengthy trek through heavy jungle he is then offered up by his captors as a human sacrifice to the Gods, who they believe have blighted the land with famine and disease. But through a handy “deus ex machina” Jaguar Paw makes a break for it and begins a high-octane race back to his village and his family as his blood-thirsty captors close in.
Despite what you may have heard, it appears that Jews aren’t actually responsible for all the violence in the world and that, in fact, Mel Gibson has been to blame for a good portion of it in recent times.
After the carnage-strewn Braveheart, Gibbo hit us with the most gruesome crucifixion scenes ever filmed in the Passion (as well as saying of one critic "I want to kill him. I want his intestines on a stick. I want to kill his dog"), and Apocalypto continues in much the same punctured vein.
Fountains of spurting blood, a man having his face chewed off by a jaguar, and an inventive POV camera shot from a decapitated head, make this Mel’s most gory effort yet.
But as well as being a visceral action thriller, which is effectively a glossy chase movie for the last hour, Gibson and his co-writer Farhad Safinia also make a decent attempt to explain why the Mayan civilisation mysteriously collapsed in the 15th century.
While not focusing on one particular aspect, we see how famine, disease, deforestation and warfare all contributed to the sudden decline, and interesting parallels are drawn between the Mayans’ abuse of nature and our own current environmental predicament – the pre-credits quotation notes: “A great civilisation is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within”.
In the extras Gibson takes us through a half-hour “Making Of” documentary covering all aspects of the 12-month shoot, including scouting trips, set-building, and the detailed research process he went through to accurately depict the Mayan civilisation.
Next up is a surprisingly lively audio commentary from Gibson and writer / producer / Cambridge academic Farhad Safinia which includes some entertaining tales involving the indigenous crew, hardly any of whom had ever acted before and a random deleted scene involving a deer running away from a menacing cloud of smoke rounds off the package.
The narrative might have benefited with chopping 15 minutes from the meandering middle section and some clumsy religious analogy in the final third could have been avoided.
Shooting the film in Catemaco – one of the last remaining tracts of rainforests left in Mexico – with an unknown, indigenous cast and using the original Yucatec language is a masterstroke from Gibson that gives Apocalypto a grippingly authentic feel.
Staring: Rudy Youngblood, Raoul Trujillo, Morris Birdyellowhead, Ramirez Amilcar, Jonathan Brewer
Directed by: Mel Gibson
Extras: Becoming Mayan: Creating Apocalypto, Deleted Scene With Optional Commentary by Gibson and Writer/Co-Producer Farhad Safinia, Audio Commentary By Gibson and Safinia