Set in Denmark, the film opens with King Hrothgar (Anthony Hopkins) celebrating the construction of his new mead hall, Heorot. The noise of the celebration echoes into Grendel’s (Crispin Glover) cave and torments him. In a mad fury, Grendel breaks into the hall and kills many people. After being challenged by Hrothgar, Grendel runs off into the night. Back at his lair, Grendel is admonished by his unseen mother for attacking the humans and possibly inviting retribution. She calms down after Grendel tells her that he did not harm Hrothgar.
Meanwhile, Hrothgar closes Heorot and proclaims that he will give half of his kingdom in gold to any man who can defeat Grendel. Beowulf (Ray Winstone) and his men arrive by ship from Geatland and convince Hrothgar to reopen Heorot. Beowulf’s credibility is challenged by Unferth (John Malkovich), the King’s most trusted advisor. Beowulf proceeds to tell a tale to convince the people of Heorot that he is capable of killing Grendel. Hrothgar offers Beowulf his Golden drinking horn, a trophy taken after a battle with the dragon Fáfnir, in the event that Grendel is destroyed.
Later Hrothgar and Queen Wealtheow (Robin Wright Penn) argue. Hrothgar states that he needs an heir. Wealtheow refuses to comply due to Hrothgar’s earlier involvement with Grendel’s mother (thus conceiving Grendel).
That evening, Beowulf asks his men to sing loudly. Grendel is agitated once again and attacks the hall in a blind fury. While fighting Grendel, Beowulf discovers an external eardrum and begins to attack it. This disorients Grendel who then tries to escape. Beowulf traps him with chains and later slams the door on his arm breaking it off. Beowulf is proclaimed a hero and Grendel’s arm is nailed above the door of Heorot.
After Grendel returns to the cave to die, Grendel’s mother cries out in grief over the loss of her son. Determined to avenge his death, she flies to Heorot in a murderous rage. She initially appears to Beowulf in a dream disguised as Wealtheow. When Beowulf wakes from the dream he finds that all of his men are dead except for Wiglaf, who (stricken with grief at the deaths of some of the other men in Beowulf’s band) had elected to forego the festivities and tend to the ship. Beowulf confronts Hrothgar, whose evasive answers imply that he knows more of Grendel’s past than he will state openly, tells Beowulf how he can find Grendel’s mother. Unferth, who has by this time converted to Christianity, appears before Beowulf and apologizes to him for his previous behavior, offering him the use of his ancestral sword Hrunting, which Beowulf accepts.
Beowulf and Wiglaf find the cave. Beowulf enters it alone, eventually confronting Grendel’s mother (Angelina Jolie). She appears to him as a beautiful nude woman with golden liquid dripping from her skin. She promises him fame and power if he gives her a son. She also demands the Horn of Hrothgar with the promise that as long as it is in her safekeeping, Heorot will be safe. As she entices Beowulf, she melts Hrunting with her bare hands. Beowulf gives in to her temptations.
Beowulf returns to Heorot with Grendel’s severed head and tells a disbelieving Hrothgar that he killed Grendel’s mother. Hrothgar states that his curse has been lifted (implying that it has passed to Beowulf) and then publicly proclaims Beowulf heir to his kingdom — and its queen. Hrothgar then proceeds to throw himself from the balcony and falls to his death. Stunned, Beowulf is duly crowned king and marries Wealtheow.
Many years pass. King Beowulf is now old and disillusioned, a shadow of his former glorious self. One day, Unferth’s servant, Cain, finds the Horn of Hrothgar upon a stretch of moors. Unferth proceeds to present it to the king. Beowulf is furious to see it and realises Grendel’s mother has reneged on their bargain. That evening Beowulf dreams of a man in gold threatening both the old Queen Wealtheow and Beowulf’s young mistress, Ursula. The next day, a fierce dragon attacks a village outside Heorot. The dragon slays Unferth’s wife and children before his eyes, and leaves a message with Unferth for Beowulf. Unferth, badly burned and mad with rage from seeing his family burned alive, gives Beowulf the dragon’s simple message: ‘The sins of the father!’
Beowulf, intending to break the cycle of the female demon’s curse, rides with Wiglaf to the cave of Grendel’s mother to kill the dragon and end the madness. Beowulf tells Wiglaf that he has instructed the heralds to proclaim Wiglaf king should Beowulf fall in the coming battle. Beowulf also tries to confess his past sins to Wiglaf, but his old friend refuses to listen and provides encouragement for the King. Beowulf enters the cave alone and attempts to mollify Grendel’s mother by returning the Dragon Horn to her. To his dismay, the demon tells him it is too late. The demon then sends the dragon to attack Heorot. The dragon overcomes a desperate attempt by Beowulf’s army to hold-off and kill it. The dragon fails to drown Beowulf by diving into the sea. The dragon proceeds to the castle and attempts to attack Queen Wealtheow and Ursula. Beowulf kills it by a daring maneuver, remembering advice on dragon-slaying given to him by Hrothgar. Beowulf, while dangling from the dragon on a chain, is unable to reach the dragon’s heart with his sword. Beowulf severs his own arm in order to be able to reach the dragon’s heart. As Beowulf is feeling through the dragon’s chest to reach its heart, the dragon jostles the sword from Beowulf’s hand. Beowulf rips the heart from the dragon with his bare hand. Wealtheow and Ursula survive.
Beowulf and the dragon fall to the shores far below. The dragon reverts to the golden man of Beowulf’s dream, whom Beowulf realizes is his son. Beowulf then dies in Wiglaf’s arms. The latter, still refusing to believe his friend is anything but a hero, finally listens to Beowulf’s confession.
Wiglaf later prepares a traditional Viking funeral for Beowulf. As he watches the burning boat loaded with Beowulf’s treasure that serves as a funeral pyre, he sees Grendel’s mother kissing the corpse amidst the flames shortly before the boat sinks. The Dragon Horn washes ashore at Wiglaf’s feet. As he picks it up, Grendel’s mother emerges from the sea, beckoning him. The movie’s ending is ambiguous about what Wiglaf will do next. (Hrothgar became king after killing a dragon that was terrorizing the people, and fathered Grendel; Beowulf became king after killing Grendel, and fathered and later slew a golden dragon; Wiglaf is now king and had a hand in slaying the golden dragon).
I liked this film the first time I saw, but after watching it again tonight, I loved it! The animation is amazing, especially when you see that the characters are dead on ringers for the actors voicing them. The scenery is breathtaking!
When I saw this in theaters, it was in 3-D. Not seeing it in 3-D takes a little away from it, but not too much, you can tell the aprts that were amde specifically for 3-D, though.
There are people that raised a fuss about the differences from the epic poem. I noticed the differences, but you can’t include everything in a movie, and certain things had to be changed to make a more interesting film. At the same time, I think they could have left a couple of things from the poem in, such as the battle with Grendel’s mother, but that’s just me.
5 out of 5 stars