Apocalypto is a mess. Sure, it’s an innovative mess, a daring mess, but it’s still an unfocused and pointless exercise. It’s a disaster in three acts and although it’s filmed beautifully it tells a story that’s completely absurd. And as for all the critical love it’s getting, well I can’t even begin to tell you why. I can only assume the critical community hates you.
It’s an easy thing for me to separate the art from the artist, so no troubles there. Even if Mel were a full time social worker counseling rape victims this would still be a terrible flick. It’s the story of the Mayan civilization and its perennially debated downfall. Disease or idolatry? War, the white man, or deforestation? The movie manages to ask plenty of questions although it does so with the subtlety of a wet fish smacked across your face. You notice the strings being pulled, you get annoyed, and then and it’s hard not to feel that Mel thinks you need a fish across the face.
But trust me, you don’t. The three acts I mentioned before boil down to an attacked village, a prolonged walk, and then an impossible half hour run through the same jungle you’ve already cinematically journeyed through. So, so annoying. I will note that the opening scene of Apocalypto is interesting, I’m talking the first five minutes here, but everything after that goes to crap. This could have been a once in a decade film had there been any script at all to work with. As it stands the copy/paste direction of “run through jungle” was used on about 45 too many pages.
There are good elements to Apocalypto which I’ll share with you if you still think you might want to check this one out. The film looks great, vibrant colors, nice imagery, kudos there. The work of the main character, Rudy Youngblood as Jaguar Paw is quite good. I’d guess he’ll get plenty of work off a very convincing performance. It’s not his fault in the slightest that the story is garbage, he did his best given the circumstances. I also have to admire the spirit of making the film in the first place. An all Mayan language film about the civilization’s downfall? That’s heavy stuff and on the surface you’d have to think finding and audience would be an uphill battle, so I respect the choice. As it turns out the battle will be even harder because the movie is so boring, repetitive, bleak, and illogical. How illogical? Well, a guy outruns a fucking jaguar for about 600 yards. I make a habit of not cursing in reviews but that nightmare plot point needed emphasis. For the record the reason this film doesn’t get graded F is because more films like this should be attempted, no matter how poorly this one was executed. Enjoy the D!
I wouldn’t recommend you see this but I know some people are going to get suckered in by the buzz that’s been building. It’s a product of a system where hype and story far outweigh what’s on the screen. We’re all going to get treated to a circus in the coming days as everyone weighs in that 1) Mel’s a conflicted genius, or 2) that the film deserves acclaim even though Mel’s occasionally bigoted. Oddly enough, neither of these resembles anything nearing relevance. No, instead what we have here is a below average film that doesn’t deserve the time of day.