Apocalypto: Mad Max Meets Rambo (Missed Movies)

When Mel Gibson announced he was going to follow up his hit The Passion of the Christ (2004) with unknown actors in a film set in the Mayan kingdom in the early 1500s using the Yucatec Maya language with subtitles, many thought he was crazy (besides other reasons that people think he is crazy). But Apocalypto (2006) is not a dry history lesson but the type of exciting action yarn one might expect from Gibson, despite its unusual setting.

The film begins in a peaceful village and you are immediately drawn to the characters despite the language barrier. Among the characters, we are introduced to the young warrior Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood) and his pregnant wife, Seven (Dalia Hernandez). But soon, things are disrupted when warriors from the center of the civilization arrive to destroy the village, attack the women, and take the men back to the temple in the city for sacrifice. As Jaguar Paw becomes separated from his wife after hiding her and his son, we wonder if he will be able to escape the captors led by Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo) to be able to return to rescue her.

The film has some similarities to Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ and Braveheart (1995) in that they all follow a movie tradition of having the hero suffer brutality so that the audience wishes for some type of vengeance against the tormentors. And there are scenes of blood and brutality. But the film that Apocalypto most reminded me of was First Blood (1982), the original Rambo movie. Like that Sylvester Stalone film, the hero here is captured and we watch as he tries to escape, survive, and defeat his pursuers.

Of course, nowadays any film attached to Mel Gibson suffers because of his controversial behavior away from the screen, and the film likely suffered at the box office because of its connection to Gibson. Questions about the film’s accuracy in portraying an ancient civilization also caused some controversy. But as a film, Apocalypto has much going for it, as recognized by other actors and directors like Robert Duvall and Quentin Tarantino.

Conclusion?: If you avoided Apocalypto when it was released because a film about Mayans in another language sounded boring, and if you like action adventure films, you should give the film a chance. It might be worth reading the subtitles to see an entertaining and exciting action film.

Other Reviews Because Why Should You Listen to Me?: Critics at Rotten Tomatoes combine to give Apocalypto a 65% rating, but audience members enjoyed the action yarn more, giving the film a 79% rating. On ReelViews, James Berardinelli gave Apocalypto 3-1/2 stars (out of four) and concluded that “it’s unlike any other movie to reach theaters this year and, because it is as visual an experience as it is visceral.” By contrast, Rob Gonsalves at eFilmCritic.com pans the film, calling it “a skimpy action flick.”

{Missed Movies is our continuing series on good films you might have missed because they did not receive the recognition they deserved when released.}

What do you think of Apocalypto? Leave your two cents in the comments.

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