The Lies Heroes Tell
"How many sea monsters were there?"
"Huh. Last time there were three."
With that exchange, Beowulf shifted gears in the first act from being a gimmicky CGI Hollywood blockbustering of the ancient heroic tale to something much more. Unferth, counsel to Hrothgar, King of the Danes, has doubts that the boastful hero from across the sea who has come to Denmark promising to kill the monster Grendel is all he boasts he is. Unferth questions Beowulf about his losing a swimming match in a prior exploit. We see a flashback where Beowulf weaves a tale of a five day swimming match interrupted by a sea monster attack. You see, Beowulf lost the swimming match because he had to kill the sea monsters. The number of sea monsters varies according to whatever Beowulf needs at that moment to impress his listeners.
Yet Beowulf makes no mention of what we see in the flashback, where the final "sea monster" was a lusty mermaid. So what really happened? Or did any of it happen? How accurate are the legends of Beowulf's heroic deeds? The answers are who knows, probably, and they're whatever you want to believe.
What about the mermaid? Perhaps the mermaid in the flashback is symbolic of Beowulf's weakness, which he shares with all classical heroes: women and lust. Against any manner of man, beast or monster, the classical hero is indomitable. But against a beautiful woman, even the bravest, mightest hero finds the shinest armor or sharpest blade of little help. The enemy becomes the deepest desires within the hero. They spell his own undoing.
Beowulf does exactly as he comes to do, as the story goes. He takes on Grendel in Hrothgar's beer hall and kills him to the acclaim of all in Hrothgar's city. Then Grendel's Mother visits Beowulf in a dream and scares the mead out of him. I liked how mighty Beowulf suddenly turned into a trembling nervous wreck as he finds out that Grendel has a mother and his job isn't done. Naturally, when the mighty hero is faced with Grendel's Mother, guised in the gorgeous, shimmering, golden, wet, naked form of Angelina Jolie, in her magic cave, he caved. All those promises of power and glory and being eternally king; they all sounded pretty good but what's even more good was the naked, wet, golden Angelina Jolie cartoon. It wasn't a fair fight.
Another neat thing about Beowulf was how the choice he made of lying about killing Grendel's Mother essentially ruined his life. The old king Hrothgar made the same choice when he was young and it came back to bite him in the ass. I liked how as soon as he saw the new kid fuck up, Hrothgar saddled him with the burden of the crown and jumped out the window. You've never seen a naked old man happier to die. Meanwhile, Beowulf's awesome life of traveling the world killing monsters and bagging comely lasses was over. Beowulf was stuck with a kingdom he didn't want, a queen who would have fucked him but now wouldn't touch him with a ten foot spear, a God he didn't want ("Christ Jesus, the Roman God"), and the burden of being the greatest hero who never killed a demon like he said he did.
Like King Arthur, Beowulf had a bastard on the way. And like Arthur's bastard Mordred, clad in golden armor, Beowulf's bastard is a golden man who morphs into a golden dragon (seems like Beowulf's DNA is better than Hrothgar's. Hrothgar's sperm only made Grendel, a deformed monster who didn't like loud singing.) The fight between old man Beowulf and the giant dragon is all it's cracked up to be. Beowulf's moment of realization of what he had to do to pierce the dragon's heart (a solution totally telegraphed by Hrothgar in act one telling Beowulf step by step how to do it) totally eclipsed every time Martin Riggs had to separate his own shoulder in the Lethal Weapon movies.
It's particularly enjoyable how Beowulf showed both the young hero at the height of his powers and later as an old man coming back for one last heroic deed that must end in his demise. Like Rocky in Rocky Balboa, that old chestnut of the aged hero coming back one more time to do the impossible never fails. I definitely dug old man Beowulf taking on his dragon son more than naked young Beowulf fighting Grendel. Both were awesome, but you can't top an old man vs. a dragon.
What is it with movies this past year with naked dudes fighting? First Borat, then Eastern Promises, and now Beowulf; they all feature naked dudes slugging it out. Beowulf went to comical, Austin Powers-esque lengths to conceal Beowulf's cock and balls before, during and after his fight with Grendel. I assume Robert Zemeckis kept all the fully rendered footage of Beowulf's balls for his own private collection. Maybe we'll see Beowulf's cock in Planet Hollywood someday.