After a frighteningly savage joint birthday party on Friday night, Maria and I were being full-nelsoned by punctual, abrasive, very Nordic hangovers. The kind one pictures worn and haggard Viking soldiers nursing, after a fortnight of whorring and fighting and drinking like it's combat. Our tried and true salvation usually lies in splurging on a greasy breakfast, followed by whatever movie is out that doesn't immediately repulse us in a tsunami of anxiety as we deliberate over chicken fried steak and creamed to all hell coffee. Her back was a little sore from barreling through a door in a drunken fury, and we figured what better way to alleviate her achy spine than to sit in theatre seats for two and a half hours watching Lord Gibson's no doubt intellectual and thought-provoking take on the Mayan culture, their achievements, their conflicts, their italicized rise and fall from grace. We went in knowing a few things, the first and foremost being Mel Gibson is bat shit loony. The second, and surely the most prominent in my mind, is that this movie would be violent. Horrifically and unnecessarily violent, a guilt-free American substitute for watching gladiatorial combat. My hopes were high. Say what you will about Mel Gibson and the relative virtues of his productions (and I know you will), it's the one area he always delivers. And, frankly it's all I cared about.
Apocalypto, Mel Gibson's lush portrait of Mayan culture borrows from classic tales such as Predator, Conan the Barbarian, The Fugitive, and The Jungle Book, and is a belly flop from a sparklingly hyped high dive into a wading pool of Hollywood sewage. His window to an ancient civilization and it's accomplishments and relative influence on modern culture is smeared with the pudgy I-just-ate-nachos-and-wiped-my-hands-on-my-pants finger prints of an acne ridden adolescent, yearning for slow motion fight scenes with makeshift beating tools and with a little luck, a glimpse at a few naked native boobies. Granted, most Americans probably know very little about Mesoamerican civilizations and will probably be able to put some kind of twisted mockery of a history lesson together after seeing this film, but I for one learned more about the Mayans from reading Where's Waldo when I was ten. The only aspects of their life that are really focused on is that at some point they were fucked due to crop failure and disease, and their coping method was painting dudes blue and sacrificing them in uncomfortable ways to rhythmic, tribal drumming. Truly, this can only be the origin of Blue Man Group, and perhaps the one good thing that could come of this film would be our governing body cutting out the hearts of those overpaid fuckers and displaying their heads on the spire of the Luxor. The history lesson we're given of the Mayans is the equivalent of a Michael Bay movie about America that focuses solely on the enslavement of Africans from 1850-1855 titled AMERICANA. I was hoping for more focus on the culture, a grander scale if you will. A wider lens. Some Braveheart type shit. Not the case.
So history and culture is out, and we're left with a much more personal story of a shirtless man and his thong, his family and his tribe wronged by slave traders. While this isn't necessarily the plot I was hoping for, by no means does it rule out the grail I am truly after. I want blood. Lots. This is the part where I commend Passion of the Christ for delivering gallons of the stuff for my desensitized, gore-thirsty eyes to behold and revel in. In no manner do I consider Passion anything close to legitimate, important, quality, or true. Nor do I believe in Jesus as a spiritual entity, to me he is just a dude. A dude who got his ass raked in a most brutal fashion, and if a certain egomaniacal anti-Semite wants to make a movie depicting this raking of ass in a slow, graphic, and shocking manner, then by gum I will throw my money at him and eat it up like cotton candy. Add a twist of crazy, left field, "I still call the Japanese 'The Yellow Threat'" style Jew hatin' to the mix and it's goddamn entertainment, and I whole heartedly recommend watching it on mute while listening to Pig Destroyer. Gibson set the gore bar very high with this film, and I expected nothing less from his latest effort. Alas, it fell short. How short? Pretty short. The combat scenes were well choreographed, but not nearly as frantic and creative as those seen in Braveheart. There was no hurling of claymores, cleaving of hands, or dropping of bodies onto sharp wooden pikes during the melee scenes, and there sure as hell was no fucking riding of horses onto beds and crushing of faces with iron balls on chains. While we did get a somewhat cool scene of a wasp's nest being thrown at adversaries like an ornery soft ball (during what I call the Predator sequence in which the protagonist covers himself in mud and hunts his hunters, only instead of shoulder lasers and scorpion faces they have sticks and nose piercings), followed up with poison-frog-juice coated darts, all it did was conjure scenes of Macaulay Culkin's death in My Girl and the Beavis and Butthead episode where they get stoned licking toads. One of the best blood moments was the detailed and drawn out sacrifice scene, yet it left something to be desired. It didn't quite give me the chills like William Wallace getting his insides pulled out at the end of Braveheart, or when Duncan Heyward was burned at the stake in Last of the Mohicans. However, there is a very A+ jaguar mauling scene that I liken to the pig-tusk-in-the-face death in Hannibal which scored a few ecstatic squeals. And again, Gibson can't resist what I now have come to expect as a token feature in his movies... Samurai style blood fountains. We got one at the end of Passion when Jesus was stabbed on the cross (the logic that after bleeding as much as he did through that movie and then at the end there was still enough to spray like Old Faithful belongs solely to the insane) and we get another doozy when our protagonist takes off a chunk of an assailant's skull with his whoopin' stick. But, for two hours and thirty minutes of Gibson style mayhem, the over all pay off is weak sauce.
The final result of the film is a generic Hollywood action/revenge story, where a man is severely wronged by overwhelming forces and must take drastic measures of bad-assery to right the wrongs and go back to his dude like ways. You could almost cast Denzel Washington as the gravely unfortunate jungle-dweller that must exact his revenge on the Mayans with a .45 and a Jeep. The acting is great, and the costumes were great, but the over all production over-shadows the good aspects with it's ego and severe misrepresentation of Mayans as naive, brutish slave traders. Most grevous is the falling short of ridiculously brutal combat and unnecessarily bloody death. We got all that and then some in a movie about Jesus, a story told to children so young that they are intimidated by pooping in a toilet by old people that still think Alice Cooper is the anti Christ. I guess that's where the insane factor comes in. Following that logic, if a movie about Christ goes far above and beyond my peaked expectations for slippery, red, gruesomeness, then of course the movie about human sacrifice and slavery would be drastically more tame. In that case I won't hold my breath for a Mel Gibson adaptation of Goodnight Moon, but if it happens I hope we can expect a 23 minute, slow motion "goodnight armed robber with a machete feeding my own arms to the dog" torture scene.