Diseased and about to be eclipsed, the Mayan society may be built of stone, but it’s blood and sacrifice they’re after. Escaping back into the jungle, Jaguar Paw’s got to live up to his name, out-running and out-hunting his would-be captors in a variety of inventive ways.
Inevitably recalling Mel’s Passion of the Christ, there are lots of similarities: subtitles, ethnic language, a detailed ancient world and an amount of violence requiring another 18 certificate. Ripped-out hearts, head-bouncing decapitations and body-slashing a-go-go, then – but not as much as the reviews make out.
Apocalypto has pretensions to a film with meaning. Civilisation is based on blood and greed. Mankind will always want more. So Jaguar Paw must flee from the Mayans and head back to his jungle Eden. Even the chase, filmed with breathless brio, is laced with a Lord of the Flies level of significance.
A visual film from start to finish, there are some stunning sets and sequences. But the lack of words shows up the holes in the pacing. An overstuffed, against-the-clock finale overdoes things too. Some seat-gripping highs, then, but too many watch-checking lows. A good stretch over 2 hours, it feels like it.
Slow build-up is a Gibson trademark. So too the crude, male-bonding humour at the start and a sense of the supernatural, a ghoulish girl foretelling the Mayans’ doom. Stylistically, this is Braveheart meets the Passion of the Christ with a tacked-on chase.
Stick around for the final shots though: a return to Gibson’s themes in the most subtle and startling way.