Time Out says
Mel Gibson’s lush, jungle-feverish leviathan takes place as one civilization’s death throes give way to the very beginning of the New World order, but it’s a movie less defined by endings than by midpoints. His action-adventure epic stands terminally poised between (a) a National Geographic travelogue and a Cecil B. DeMille spectacle; (b) cheesy and compelling; and (c) its maker’s Herzogian ambition and his own Col. Kurtz complex. Gibson is one of the few directors scrupulous enough (or artistically pretentious enough—your call) to script this tale of a young Mayan named Jaguar Paw (Youngblood) in its ancient tongue, then include an homage to Midnight Cowboy and translate one indigenous bon mot as “He’s fucked.” He also felt the need to prove that dick jokes are hilarious in any language, even a dead one. At least he doesn’t blame the Mesoamericans for starting all the wars in the world.
Once Gibson gets the story’s “Native Americans, so like us” pretext and a slaughter that’s lifted wholesale from Braveheart out of the way, the movie shifts into Saturday-matinee mode: Jaguar Paw and friends are kidnapped by warrior rivals; he alone escapes; much running through the jungle ensues. As the prey starts outwitting his predators, there’s an undeniable sense of excitement that Apocalypto exploits to the max, but once again, in Gibson’s world, sadism is synonymous with entertainment. Watch the scene in which a crazed tyrant repeatedly disembowels and decapitates victims for the delight of a bloodthirsty crowd. Who do you think the filmmaker identifies with more? (Opens Fri; Click here for venues.) — David Fear