I’ve put off watching this for a while. If it’s any good an American director will remake it in English. Oh wait…
Mayan certainly isn’t the most common of languages these days, so it’s a bold choice to make this action adventure film in it. I’ve talked before on this blog about the challenges faced by foreign language in films, like whether being made in your own language benefits your enjoyment of a film, and against my own personal pet peeve of English being spoken in the accent of the relevant language. So using a language spoken only by about a million people, when there’s no inter-language dialogue in the film anyway, is a striking creative choice.
A peaceful Mayan tribe is the victim of a brutal attack while they are sleeping. Their attackers, from a large, cult-like, slave-based society, aren’t taking any prisoners as they lay waste to the village. I mean that figuratively, of course, as they actually take the whole tribe prisoner. The village’s surviving inhabitants are taken to an almost-industrial citadel where they are enslaved, or sacrificed atop mighty pyramids. Take note James Cameron, this could be a good plot for the next Avatar film.
At first glance Mel Gibson may not be the most appropriate man to sensitively portray another culture, but while I can’t vouch for its historical accuracy, I can commend its credentials as a suspenseful action film. Gibson’s experience in the Lethal Weapon films is evident as he knows how to handle the fighting, although some of the clever comedy of those films feels slightly out of place here. It opens with them laughing at a man who can’t get his wife pregnant. Queue awkward “angry mother in law who wants a grandkid” comedy. I guess there’s no reason this wouldn’t have happened, it just feels a little strange in a film like this.
What Apocalypto deserves huge praise for is its originality. Not just the language, but for its choice of setting, uncompromising vision and for the fact there really isn’t another film quite like it. Being middle of the road is something I have little patience with, and while Apocalypto has divided opinion, it certainly can’t be accused of playing it safe.
Personally I’m at the “love it” end of the Marmite spectrum. It’s a very well made, gripping and exciting film which remains impressive throughout. On this criteria alone it’s merely good, but what makes it stand out is the spectacular visuals of the jungle, and the vast brutality of the Mayan city. The scale of the film is incredible, with swarms of extras on vast sets, providing the perfect backdrop for the fast-paced action. This is one of the best action films of the 21st century, cutting the hearts out of its mediocre competition.