Paramount Pictures and Shangri-la Entertainment

Review in a Hurry:  Until now, the story of Beowulf has been the most excruciatingly dull part of English Lit 101: Guy fights monster, guy fights monster's mom, guy becomes king—all in 3,000 lines of ancient poetry. But plenty of swordplay, monster-slaying and a naked Angelina Jolie turn the centuries-old poem into a bitching action movie.

The Bigger Picture:  Things are seriously rotten in Denmark. King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) is a fat, obscene toddler, chugging mead and partying, when the hideous monster Grendel (Crispin Glover, wonderfully twisted) comes into his castle hall to complain about the noise and snack on some Danish (flesh, that is). Hrothgar offers half his treasure to anyone who can kill Grendel, and traveling hero Beowulf (Ray Winstone) shows up with his crew of rowdy warriors.

He's so confident that he wrestles Grendel bare-assed and bare-handed in a wild, acrobatic fight scene. But there's a secret behind Grendel's existence that also entangles Beowulf when he meets the monster's mother, a naked, gold-covered Angelina Jolie. Sure, she's part serpent-creature, but hey—naked, gold, Angelina Jolie. Come on, the guy's only human.

The script, by Neil Gaiman (Stardust, the Sandman comics) and Roger Avary (Pulp Fiction), brings surprising nuance and depth to the age-old story. Sure, Beowulf is a hero, but he's also arrogant and ambitious. His flaws turn out to be fatal—mainly to the people around him—as he learns the price of power. Still, there are all kinds of ass-kickery (on a 3-D Imax screen near you, if you're lucky), including what might be the best injury-to-the-eye scene ever. Also, did we mention the naked, gold-covered Angelina Jolie? Yeah, she's naked and covered in gold.

The 180—a Second Opinion:  Beowulf is done entirely in CGI, with real actors motion-captured and redrawn over the lavish backgrounds. It might be the wave of the future, but sometimes, it's just weird and kicks you out of the movie completely. The fur on a robe will be rendered perfectly, but the skin of the person it's wrapped around will look like Play-Doh under Saran Wrap. While the monsters—especially Grendel's mom—are eerily lifelike, the eyes of the human characters often look soulless and dead.

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