Mel Gibson's new movie "Apocalypto" drew several favorable early reviews Friday from critics who cautioned the thriller set against the end of an ancient Mayan civilization is also extremely violent.
"Blood-and-guts action audiences should eat this up," said show business newspaper Daily Variety.
"Despite the subject's inherent spectacle, conflict and societal interest, Central America's pre-Columbian history has scarcely been touched by filmmakers," writes Variety critic Todd McCarthy, who also called the film "remarkable."
Another veteran critic, Maxim magazine's Pete Hammond, said he was "blown away by the filmmaking."
"Say what you will about Mel Gibson, but the guy knows how to get the goods up on the screen," Hammond told Reuters. "It's a chase movie; it's an action movie ... it's extremely violent."
"Apocalypto" is being closely followed because of Gibson's arrest this summer on drunken driving charges in Malibu, California, outside Los Angeles, and because of his subsequent anti-Semitic tirade against a police officer.
Gibson, 50, later apologized, and industry watchers are curious to see whether his legions of fans and the general public have forgiven him and will turn out for the movie's Dec. 8 debut in the United States.
"I don't think it's going to matter with the core audience. At it's heart, this is a pure action movie," Hammond said.
The movie is being hyped by its distributor The Walt Disney Co. as a "mythic action-adventure set against turbulent end times of the once-great Mayan civilization."
The main character is Jaguar Paw, a hunter whose idyllic jungle life ends when Mayan warriors attack his village. They burn huts, rape women and take the men to be human sacrifices in a Mayan city that is beset by drought and crop failure.
What ensues is a bloody battle between the Mayan captors and Jaguar Paw as he seeks to escape their clutches and return home to his burned village, pregnant wife and their young son.
The movie is subtitled in English, with the characters speaking in an ancient version of a language called Yucatec.
Gibson has a long history of making violent movies that, in the end, have paid off. His 1995 epic, "Braveheart," another historical thriller, featured many bloody battles and won five Oscars including best picture and best director for Gibson.
More recently, "The Passion of the Christ" raked in $612 million in global box office with a tale of the final hours in the life of Jesus Christ, and it was criticized by some for being too violent in its depictions of Christ's suffering.