Director Mel Gibson attempts to bring us into a mystic world based on the once great Mayan civilization, but his illusion fails as the hero overcomes barriers that Superman would find difficult.
Rudy Youngblood is Jaguar Paw who is in the center of what appears to be an idyllic civilization. His wife is pregnant with their second child, it is a rich life in an ancient civilization. But an invading force drives Jaguar Paw and others into an ugly march while latched together on a bamboo rail. The march is designed to force the captives to the sacrifice alter on which hearts are removed and heads roll.
In their society the captives know fear as a sickness as they view the other tribe passing in the jungle, but it doesn't stop practical jokes like passing around hot red power which is applied to testicles with burning results, on one of the innocent buddies. They also sit around the night fire and listen to tales of heroes and history.
Even though much of the early activity feels real, it is paced far too slowly and limits the attention which should be demand by the situation. At the same time Gibson effectively forces us to watch fear in the eyes of small children as the adults in the tribe are slaughtered or force marched away where the children can not follow.
The effect of civilization on the forest is foretold as trees are toppled and disease leaves young children alone standing over the dead bodies of their parents. An eclipse of the Sun gives the phoney medicine man the ability to reinforce his ugly violent behavior.
Gibson again gives us an ultra violent film yet drama is often slow even when its over the top. Situations such as the slave market that imitates a frantic stock trading floor and blue painted bodies mark a class of humans apart from those who are in power show the violence of absolute power in the uglyest fashion. Two stations in life exist those that have and those that have not, very little is in-between. In Gibson's dark world we see heads roll in scenes which are sadistic and look like "The Last Judgment" by the artist Hieronymus Bosch, by that time we know this is a holocaust film.
All the action is based on ignorance and becomes an excuse for violence. But the escape by the hero has the potential to be a series of stunning close calls which have significant cinematic potential. As Jaguar Paw escapes with a spear through his torso he is determined to save his wife and son who are in a well which eventually fills with water as his wife gives birth while she attempts to save herself and their son. But Gibson comes up with far too many barriers for us to suspend reality and accept as part of the flow of the film. The hero even falls into quick-sand which was the final menace in so many black and white jungle B-films in the forties. Even the bees of the jungle help him as he finds methods to slaughter the pursuing tribesmen.
In the dark world these folks live in not only do they have rival tribes and ignorance to fight but their future is to be filled with Spanish conquers who will further demolish their traditional way of life.
The film has no English and has sub-titles through-out, but most of the film is action filled and words have little effect.