I know I've posted on the dangers of "messing with the story" (especially when the story happens to be the oldest one in the English language known to humanity), but, it turns out, the best thing about Beowulf is that it isn't a brainless excuse for stuff that looks cool, but rather, a classic myth retold in an exciting way...with stuff that looks cool.
Some initial concerns about the movie remained (wrinkly King Hrothgar looks real; unblemished Queen Wealthow looks like an unused Shrek character), but director Zemeckis retains visionary status by creating a strange, visually stunning rumination on human mistakes rather than heroism. Screenwriters Gaiman and Avery weave a kind of postmodern take on both the epic grandeur of the original poem and John Gardener's philosophical Grendel, striking a compelling balance between the in-the-moment action of heated battle, and the pride which clouds it. Also, it doesn't hurt that the 3D is sweet.
From the moment Grendel smashes on screen (his appearence should silence any naysayers - me among them - not immediately impressed by the trailer), and the effectively creepy, brutally violent scene that follows, it feels like we're witnessing something new - which is an accomplishment, considering the source material. Beowulf truly pushes the envelope, which almost gives a pass to the fact that the characters' unblinking eyes still look pretty dead.
What ultimately makes Beowulf a success is the strength of the story's retelling, which, rather than losing anything in translation, has been satisfyingly updated for today's audience, as it has been for centuries (the "campfire" quality of the oratorically-passed-down poem remains, in all its crassness). What we're left with is a cynical, if still hopeful, view of humanity. "We men are the monsters now," says Beowulf toward the film's end. "The time for heroes is over."