Mel Gibson has had a bad year. Apocalypto isn't going to make it any better. Gibson's outline for the piece -- a lengthy, action-filled run-or-die story set in the midst of ancient Mayan culture -- didn't exactly sound like a rousing crowd-pleaser, and his DUI bust and subsequent rantings took even more of the luster off his star power. But Apocalypto isn't as atypical as it may seem -- from Braveheart on, Gibson's directorial efforts have been fairly blood-soaked historical exercises -- and Apocalyto isn't just more of the same, it's entirely too much of the same.
Apocalypto's plot is simple, and you can sense the mythic ideas the script was formed around; a man, captured by killers, has to escape them and race home to save his family. Films about early cultures are always tricky, but you can feel the desire to keep it simple: In many ways, Apocalypto is a pretty stripped-down affair. Our hero is on the hunt, he pauses at home, and then he is in peril and in flight. And yet, the resources brought to bear here and the decisions made -- to shoot in the original Mayan dialect, in Mexico, for a finished film with CGI-effects and huge practical stunts -- bloat that premise up with the kind of excess that money, in fact, can buy. (Shot for approximately $40 million, it's nearly impossible to imagine Apocalypto making more than a quarter of that investment back.)