The timing of the release of Mel Gibson's Apocalypto is quite unfortunate. It was already a difficult sell and riding close behind his drunken hate-filled rant that he may have gotten more of a pass on, if it wasn't what had long been suspected as his feelings to begin with.
The sad part is that after two crappy, overrated epic pieces of junk, he's actually found something that suits his strength, while largely ignoring his deficits as a filmmaker. Seemingly a combination of elements from Conan the Barbarian, Cannibal Holocaust and First Blood - if anyone had described as such to me, I may have made an effort to see it in the theater - the movie leaves behind awkward preachiness and most of the pathetic attempts at complexity that tripped the director up in his previous efforts.
Not to suggest, mind you, that this is simply a simple-minded action movie. Merely that it's a movie that allows most of its meaning to be expressed through the story itself and the nuances of the performances rather than beating us over the head with characters telling us what to think of them... or worse telling us we're supposed to see it as something more important than the actual storytelling is actually conveying.
Mind you, if it got the kinds of praise his last two movies got, it would still be a little over-the-top, but nevertheless have some genuine reasoning to it. It's certainly a movie worth thinking about.
To me, however, I see that his widely criticized portrayal of the horrors of the story is, if anything, more muted than would have been my inclination, were I telling the story. I'd see that as strong evidence of how screwed I am, if I thought I'd ever be interested in telling a story like this one...