If nothing else, this ridiculously bombastic, dazzlingly animated adventure provides a much needed innovation: 3-D boobs. At one point the camera lingers on a pair of big, lusty, pendulous serving wench bosoms that threaten to bust out of their bodice and right into the audience's laps. The mammaries are but two visual delights in a movie so overstuffed with fireworks that you begin to fear permanent retinal damage.
Loosely adapted from an ancient epic poem that has bored generations of schoolkids stiff, Beowulf proves that, in the right hands, classic lit can be just as loud, stupid and breathtaking as any Michael Bay blockbuster. Taking a cue from 300, director Robert Zemeckis has rendered the brawny hero of antiquity with bleeding-edge wonders, technology making every sword thrust, blood drop and rippling muscle explode off the screen in staggering detail. This ain't your old man's cheesy 3-D; the process is truly amazing, and you aren't handed those flimsy, red and blue cellophane jobs, but large black rimmed glasses that make any wearer look a bit like Michael Caine.
Yet no technical wizardry can improve the storyline, which remains slightly muddled even after centuries of analysis and absorption into the cultural wallpaper. Ray Winstone (The Departed) provides the growling voice of the title dude, a super buff overconfident alpha-male, a shameless self-promoter who barks his own name as an empowerment mantra, when not spouting such mega-butch lines as, "I am ripper, tearer, slasher, teeth in the darkness!"
This Saxon stud has been summoned to Denmark to slay a horrible, oozing demon named Grendel (Crispin Glover), who has a seriously bad attitude and a nasty skin condition. After a few protracted fight scenes, Beowulf thinks the groovy ghoul problem is handled, only to be told by King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins), that the real menace is Grendel's mother — and, boy, is she a mother. Far more powerful than her foul spawn Grendel, she's also easier on the eyes, slinking about her cave in the naked, liquid-gold-dripping form of Angelina Jolie, using all her seductive charms while purring in a weird accent reminiscent of Zsa Zsa Gabor.
The two fight and flirt, and then the movie veers so far from the source it will force English lit professors to yank their few remaining hairs out. The film's alterations of the original story add interesting modern texture; Beowulf is now a flawed, somewhat tragic figure, which only makes you clamor for real, flesh-and-blood people to gaze at. As sophisticated as the motion-capture animation is, the characters still have dead-doll eyes, to which no amount of code-crunching can give the spark of life. It's also tough to care about the drama while the violence and machismo is so willfully over-the-top that it feels like parody. Every spear tip, flagon of mead and severed monster eyeball gets flung at the camera, jumping out at the audience; it's like a fun house attraction, one that makes the whole thing come off as a tiresome gimmick. The ample nudity and massive bloodshed makes this an adult affair, certainly, but most grown-ups will find themselves giggling not just at the innuendo but the stilted dialogue. It's silly but never dull.