Alternately goofy and gorgeous, Beowulf's the cinematic adaptation of the roughly 1200-year-old poem that everyone had to read in high school. But be wary, English majors: Hardly the Beowulf that's in your Norton anthologies, director Robert Zemeckis' vision of the Old English epic is mostly notable for two things: (A) It's all CG, and (B), it features a naked Angelina Jolie.
Well, she's sort of naked, and she's sort of Angelina Jolie. Just as he did with The Polar Express, Zemeckis has used motion capture to translate the movements of real actors into CG—and just as with The Polar Express, the results are decidedly mixed, with Beowulf sometimes looking absolutely killer, and sometimes looking like Shrek.
Regardless, the story remains as excellent as when you first read it in your CliffsNotes: Monster hunter Beowulf aims to take down Grendel, a creature who's been terrorizing a Danish kingdom. In doing so, Beowulf pisses off Grendel's mother, a far more lethal foe. And just because why the hell not, there's also a dragon. And some sea monsters.
Beowulf's basically the eighth century's equivalent of a superhero comic, and appropriately enough, Zemeckis' film is at its best when it's at its pulpiest, thanks to some fun, outlandish action sequences. But when it comes to the poem's inherent drama—or the drama that's been liberally added by screenwriters Neil Gaiman and Roger Avary—things get silly and dull. There are benefits to Zemeckis' CG style, but the ability to convey subtle drama isn't among them—Beowulf is an ungainly, stilted mess whenever characters are talking to each other rather than stabbing out sea monsters' eyes.
Luckily, there's lots of eye-stabbin', and, yes, a disarmingly lifelike replica of a near-naked Jolie, who plays Grendel's mom. Jolie—along with Ray Winstone as Beowulf, Crispin Glover (!) as Grendel, and Anthony Hopkins as troubled King Hrothgar—makes things just interesting enough to keep Zemeckis' tech demo of a film limping from action sequence to action sequence. Sporadically, Beowulf is fun, and cool, and pretty; ultimately, it's an awkward marriage between Old English and your Xbox.