The critics are mostly grudgingly agreeing that Mel Gibson's latest, APOCALYPTO, is a well-made movie. After all, no matter how much you hate the guy, no matter how much you may want to see him fail and or witness his career come to an end, you can't just dismiss the obvious. APOCALYPTO is, in spite of its flaws, an extraordinary film. And it's a film that the critics wouldn't dare to criticize, were it done by anyone other than Mel Gibson. After all, it's subtitled, it features a no-name cast of Central American actors, and it's about Indians who lived six centuries ago. If not for the fact that Mel made it, disliking the film would be construed as small-minded, possibly even racist.
But since it's by Mel, a straight white Catholic male who's said some un-kosher things about Jews in the recent past, it's a little chancy to admire APOCALYPTO, much as the movie shouts to be admired (even if not liked) in so many ways.
Of course, if not for the fact that Mel made it, and if not for the fact that Mel's name is on it, there's no way APOCALYPTO would be seen by so many people, or be making the kind of money that it's making. After all... it's subtitled, it features a no-name cast of Central American actors, and it's about Indians who lived six centuries ago. Not exactly what most would consider blockbuster material, no matter how spiced up it may be with violence and gore.
What's truly interesting about the movie is the fact that is seems to be an allegory, designed to have relevance for our own times. As much is indicated by the fact that it begins with a portentous quotation from a modern philosopher about civilizations never being conquered from without until they are destroyed from within. The film depicts the ancient Mayan culture at its most decadent, with the practice of human sacrifice at its apex, just before the arrival of the Spanish Conquestadors. Since we too are fond of human sacrifice (albeit of a more discreet form), and we too find ourselves menaced by a foreign religious ideology (who threatens to conquer not so much through brute force as through simulatanous terror attacks and slow demographic absorbtion), it's hard to ignore that APOCALYPTO is not only about then, but now as well.
Despite a bit of puerile sexual humor, and lots of gratuitous mayhem (tigers chewing off faces, impalings, bludgeonings, and the like), APOCALYPTO succeeds beautifully as both a rip-roaring action-adventure tale and as a grim meditation on the downfall of civilization. In short, you should see it, whoever you may be.