Think you already know the epic tale? Not this version, you don’t. Having apparently decided that the Christian monks who transcribed the oldest known version of Beowulf were clearly uptight puritans who deleted all references to monster fucking, screenwriters Roger Avary and Neil Gaiman have set things straight by incorporating Arthurian legend into the mix and turning Grendel’s mother (Angelina Jolie) into a Morgana-like sultry sorceress rather than a violent hag. It’s an interesting notion, but the end result is that what used to be a heroic tale of a creature-killer is now, more or less, a medieval rendering of the story of the asshole jock who knocks up the slutty cheerleader, gets syphilis and spreads it around. Thanks to performance-capture animation, pudgy Brit Ray Winstone has been given a Schwarzenegger physique as Beowulf, but he seems to have adopted the Governator’s one-note acting style too — he’s a loud jerk without much depth, while Crispin Glover’s Grendel evinces a world of hurt with little more than incoherent screaming. It’s worth seeing nonetheless, not just for the amazing final dragon battle and the scene where a naked Jolie gives Beowulf’s sword a hand-job, but also for the sheer bile and mean-spiritedness that pervades, and seems especially odd coming from director Robert Zemeckis (who brought us Roger Rabbit and Forrest Gump). Beowulf may ultimately be viewed as a failure, but it’s a fascinating one. And if you ever doubted that the MPAA ratings were a total joke, this movie clinches it — naked women, massive bloodletting, disembowelments, dismemberments, flesh-burning, detailed sex talk, all in 3-D IMAX and rated . . . PG-13? (Citywide)

—Luke Y. Thompson

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