By Odin's beard, somebody get me an umbrella! Doesn't it ever stop raining in sixth-century Daneland? And what about this wind? Can't keep me hair out of me freaking eyes! It's enough to drive a heroic Geat warrior mad. Not that I'm bragging, mind you. There have been a few sagas about me. The name "Beowulf" ring a bell? It should—like Brad Pitt in Troy, Viggo Mortensen in the LOTR movies, only shaggier. So naturally, I got the call from Hrothgar, King of the Danes (an old drunk, between us; fights like a woman, squats to pee). So the old souse is having troll problems—seems the giant beast invaded his mead hall, killed half his warriors (whilst sparing the wee 'uns and womenfolk). But still, this act of troll terrorism will not stand. So I sail west to the icy waters of Daneland with a dozen of my best fighting men; call them the coalition of the willing. Our mission: Find the troll, smoke him out of his cave, and put his head on a pike. I say, troll—bring it on.
But, looking at the movie today, handsome Scotsman Gerard Butler makes for an assassin both modest and macho; and he soon has reason to question the enmity Hrothgar (Stellan Skarsgård, looking "like walrus shit," in his own words) bears toward the 8-foot troll Grendel (Ingvar Sigurdsson, layered under prosthetics and fur). The grudge works both ways, as he discovers from the sarcastic local witch (Sarah Polley—which way to Lilith Fair?). This Beowulf is less violent and funnier than expected, thanks to an idiomatic embellishment of the Anglo-Saxon source tale. Filmed in the awesome Icelandic landscape, where glaciers nose down to black-sand beaches, Hrothgar's settlement resembles nothing so much as HBO's Deadwood—a brutish place where survival is ever tenuous and a stiff drink helps you forget that fact.
Even if he does enjoy playing bocce ball with human skulls, Grendel ultimately surprises Beowulf by behaving less like a monster than a man. Which may not be new to those who've seen Frankenstein, but you can still enjoy a movie that falls short of the myth.