Beowulf & Grendel is an epic revisionist adventure that asks, "Was the legendary beastie Grendel a monster, or merely misunderstood? Dude, aren't we all, like, monsters of some sort?" Previous interpretations of the epic poem have focused largely on Grendel the human-slayer, bone-grinder, and destroyer, but Grendel sheds light on the many moods of the famous mass murderer. Sure, there's Grendel the killer, but there's also Grendel the son, father, lover, and playful imp who enjoys bowling with human skulls. Grendel's exact identity and nature has long been open to question, but in this film, he qualifies as something far more ominous than a mere monster; he's a big old fuzzy metaphor for the unknown, the demonized "other," the id, and damn near everything else under the sun.
Director Sturla Gunnarsson, who previously addressed another legend with 1997's Joe Torre: Curveballs Along The Way, adds multiple layers of grime to the venerable tale of a great warrior (Gerard Butler) who squares off against a hideous troll (Ingvar Eggert Sigurðsson) with serious father issues. In perhaps the most anachronistic performance in a period film since Keanu Reeves duded his way through Dangerous Liaisons and Dracula, Sarah Polley co-stars as a sassy witch whose supernatural ways only partly explain why she seems to be the only person in the sixth century to have read The Feminine Mystique.
Andrew Rai Berzins' script spruces up long stretches of Old English with unexpected bursts of cussing and gleeful vulgarity that feel as misguided as everything else in the film. Removing many of the mythical elements of the tale is an intriguing idea that would undoubtedly have paid richer dividends if it didn't mean relying on a heavy who looks like a cross between a Neanderthal on steroids and stilts, and an unusually hirsute wrestler. Beowulf & Grendel overflows with ambition and boasts some striking imagery, but somewhere between the second time Grendel is referred to as a "fucking troll" and Polley appears in her impeccably contemporary makeup, the film's noble ambitions go entertainingly awry.