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Apocalypto

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Apocalypto delivers. Read on:

Once thought to be the appropriate epithet for his post-mug-shot career, Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto may well represent a step toward the fallen actor-director’s resurrection.

Revisiting similar emotional and visual terrain as he did with his divisive but phenomenally successful The Passion of the Christ, Apocalypto is a period piece set in ancient times that revolves around one man’s struggle to save something of personal importance. For Jesus, the object of salvation was the entire human race. For Jaguar Paw (Rudy Youngblood), the quest is more humble. He simply wants to save his family, and his small group of forest tribespeople, from the blunt axe and bloodlust of the Holcane warriors.

If you’re not up on your Mayan history or the timeline of human settlements on the Yucatan Peninsula, the Holcane warriors are fierce killers who serve the Mayan leader and his sacred priest by rounding up mountain-dwelling tribesmen for sacrifice.

With failing crops and a disfiguring illness claiming villagers, the Holcane warriors are working overtime to meet the demand for ritual killing, and when the film opens, Jaguar Paw and his people come face-to-face with a group of ragtag survivors.

They are in shock, and they have the vacant look of someone already half dead. Jaguar Paw’s father tells him they are sick with fear, and as a result, their fate is sealed. A few scenes later, we meet the Holcane warriors in the flesh and immediately understand the terror they inspire.

Zero Wolf (Raoul Trujillo) is the death squad leader and, thanks to his epaulets made of human mandibles and his necklace made from fragments of human skull, we can be assured he’ll figure as the central villain.

The rest of the narrative is self-sustaining: Jaguar Paw must elude capture by the Holcane, save his wife and son from certain death, and preserve his tribal way of life for future generations.

Seems simple enough, but surviving massive cultural upheaval and a climate of ambient fear is not easy — and if Apocalypto has any great thematic goals, it’s teaching its audience some timely lessons about the perils of paranoia, and the risk of non-resistance.

Jaguar Paw comes close to certain death several times over the course of this adrenalin-fuelled jaunt through the jungles of Mexico, but thanks to his manly resolve and the acceptance of his own human limitations, he refuses to fold in the face of terror.

In this way, he shares some key similarities to other Gibson heroes — including the blue-faced warrior William Wallace (Braveheart) and Jesus (Jim Caviezel in The Passion of the Christ).

Even Gibson’s pre-lapserian alter egos from the Lethal Weapon and Mad Max franchises fit under the same manly banner.

Gibson seems to enjoy watching half-naked, muscular men engage in bloodsport. Half the scenes in Apocalypto involve mano-a-mano bonding and intense violence.

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