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Apocalypto delivers the goods. Read on:

So it’s a period film. A period action film, to be more precise. With no stars, and no recognizable faces. In a dead language that no one has spoken for, well, a long time. Directed by a guy who, let’s face it, is perhaps not the most popular person in Hollywood right now. But you know what? It’s also a great movie.

Apocalypto is the first film written and directed by Mel Gibson since his blockbuster biblical epic Passion of the Christ and, unfortunately, also the first since his arrest in Malibu. The reason I say “unfortunately” is because what all of this means is that it will likely not get a fair shake when time comes for most folks to see, or in many cases, not see the picture. Because in a season crowded with self-important opuses and so-called message films, the perfect counterprogramming may indeed be this violent, pulse-pounding thrill ride — boilerplate promotional copy, anti-semitic remarks or even period-action-movie-with-no-stars-and-in-a-dead-language be damned.

Newcomer Rudy Youngblood plays Jaguar Paw, a young tribesman who comes of age when his village is attacked by Mayan warriors. After witnessing the murder of his friends and family, many of whom are literally sacrificed to provide Mayan altars with blood, Jaguar Paw escapes and attempts to return to his village, where his pregnant wife is due to give birth at the bottom of a pit that is rapidly filling with water. But with a group of hunters hot on his tail, Jaguar Paw discovers that his maturity comes with responsibility — first to himself, then to his family, and finally, to the legacy of his tribe.

Mind you, all of this “responsibility to his tribe” business is cleverly masked in some fairly spectacular action sequences, most of which stop just short of the relentless bloodletting documented in Gibson’s Passion. This is more Braveheart territory than a flaying of biblical proportions. Using the same digital cameras employed for Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, Gibson creates a series of truly beautiful, saturated images that bring the vivid, green world of the characters to life. At the same time, the action feels thoroughly modern — meaning audiences won’t be bored by the primitive weaponry or generally low-tech approach to taking out Jaguar Paw’s adversaries. Fans of the “free running” sequence from Casino Royale will have a field day with the nearly hourlong chase scene that climaxes Apocalypto.

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Apocalypto Movie Posters

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