A powerful civilization is collapsing within from greed, waste, famine, and internal strife. Massive consumers exploit ever more manpower and natural resources to satisfy their appetites. “Apocalypto” briskly shows Mayans’ desperate grab to tyrannize forest hunters. Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) races through the natural beauty of the forest to free his family as Mayan warriors pursue. Their Mayan city reeks with chaos, pollution, brutality, and markets that hawk slaves alongside rotting produce. Temple architecture and snatches of royal elegance hint at past prestige.
Carla Hool’s casting gives credible, dynamic characters. Director Mel Gibson coaxed convincing energetic performances. But Jaguar Paw lacks dimension: fear is his only flaw, which our adrenaline-blessed hero overcomes as he surmounts one obstacle after another. One yearns for Rick’s cynicism in Casablanca, Hamlet’s inaction, Lear’s vanity — or for a mischievous student to trip the teacher’s pet on his way to the blackboard. Violence is excessive (though nothing worse than Suetonius’ Caesars, seeing it shocks): one head bouncing down the temple steps was quite enough, likewise a barren field with headless corpses, or ripped entrails — all gore repeated. Nevertheless Gibson offers new beginnings, hope, and enough brilliance to laugh his way to the bank.