Review: Beowulf Looks Cool, Lacks Story

Beowulf is annoying in that it’s a tweener. Not as horrible as you’d hope, not as good as it would need to be to tell a friend, it’s a film that wastes the awesome promise that descriptors such as “3-D” “Angelina Jolie” and “oldest English language tale in existence” would seemingly infer. You get some good, you get some bad, and at the end of it 113 minutes have passed. They’ve done a wonderful job of marketing this so hopefully this review will provide you a clearer description of what exactly this movie is, and why you should or shouldn’t see it.

First off, the story for those of you who often skipped English class. Beowulf is a hero who’s tasked with killing a monster named Grendel. The king of the land Beowulf travels to has an awful secret, and mystery and death hang in the air. Beowulf, played by Ray Winstone, is pretty much a full-on badass and when he’s engaging in physical combat the movie is interesting.

However, many things don’t work in Beowulf. The running time feels… bloated and it’s easy to remember why kids fled from this assigned reading in school. It’s just an ancient narrative structure, and no amount of 3-D sprucing can hide that fact. Speaking of the 3-D, it’s really good during the action sequences, and really terrible during the facial close-ups. It’s that Polar Express curse – it looks idiotic when long drawn-out speeches are being given by people who appear to have mush for mouths.

That said, I would recommend seeing it in 3-D as that's the main draw. There are some truly innovative and phenomenal looking battle scenes - they look like they are coming right at you. This is a difference maker where Beowulf is concerned, it looks better than anything else out there for minutes at a time. It’s also undeniably cool during certain portions; if this had just been a straight up war movie I think I would have been a much bigger fan.

The one thing I do respect about Beowulf is that I think they did it the way they wanted. When you see the film I don’t think you’ll notice compromise, they made the story as interesting as they could given the source material’s restrictions. It also seems as though they were given free rein in terms of look and feel – otherwise how would they have gotten $100 million dollars in CGI signed off on? So when I look at the story I can’t really say “They should have fixed that,” because I think they accomplished exactly what they were going for. The issue is that the story isn’t all that compelling.

Beowulf is a movie that serious movie fans should see (in 3-D) because it is an evolution of the technique. I suppose it’s a movie that hard core literary people should see too – if only to complain about where they messed up. It’s probably not going to be the best experience for a casual movie-goer, too long, drawn-out, and melodramatic for the general public’s taste. As for you, I think you should see it at some point after the opening weekend. You don’t want to be in that initial wave of disappointment, grumbling on your way out that you’ve acquired a slight headache from the three dimensional visions coupled with a one dimensional storyline.

Grade: B-