Medieval not to be confused with MediEvil, the game series, — is a loose retelling of an intriguing part of history involving a Czech General whose prowess in battle earned him such renown that his name was remembered. With such excellent source material as the General Jan Žižka who ‘never lost a battle’ this film, based on his early life, takes FAR too many liberties and falls too far on the cliché sword to craft its own identity.
First off, I am a huge Michael Caine fan, I hang on every word he says with reckless abandon. So, the film starts with Lord Boresh (Caine) giving MUCH needed framework to lay out the film, and it is done in his typical excellently styled drawl.
We are then introduced to our hero wiping his face in a bucket in slow-ish motion, and when Žižka (Foster) surfaces from the water, I saw Maximus from Gladiator energy. The hype was real and the cinematography was superb. A Caine monologue, excellent story setup, and a scene that brought me back to one of the best steel fighting movies ever? I was entertained.
Then, a walking sequence shows our hero marching past allies — who are immediately forgettable — and their personalities are basically what they’re doing in this sequence. One is drinking, the other is sharpening a weapon, and another is checking the condition of his crossbow. Those are their personalities, these actions, and they’re ‘basic ally’ tropes spoon-fed to the audience.
A skirmish ensues after Boresh’s coach is viciously attacked. Zizka and company ride in to save the day and a massive fight scene occurs and it is BRUTAL. Everything bloodthirsty medieval fans would go to theatres to quench their thirst with comes blasting into the viewers retinas with proper, well-timed effect. A spear pierces a jobber adversary’s ankle with a sickening crunch, mace blows destroy skulls like piñatas, and soon the adversaries are disbanded, save one.
“The musical score on display in Medieval heightens during tense sequences, and sound effects during combat are sublime…”
While Boresh is buzzing in Zizka’s ear for not ‘getting there sooner’, another cliché, the rich person who can’t fight complaining about their saviour — Zizka offers the last adversary a chance at redemption. The captive elects to spill the beans about who hired them to join the merry band of non-personalities, with laughter all around. The timing of this scene can’t be understated. This film continued to build upon itself in this first scene. Unfortunately, this is where cliché, and tropes take complete control. Medieval becomes inconsistently paced and assumes too much of the viewer. The first 10 minutes are the best 10 minutes.
Medieval‘s story is parallel to the Western Schism, and since Emperor Charles IV’s death, there has been a growing tide of ‘it’s all about me’ throughout the realm. In order to stop the pissing contest, Boresh basically tasks Zizka to stop a political assassination, which would exacerbate the tension, which has already taken a huge toll on the people.
The power struggle between kings is already bad enough, with a Pope in Rome and a self-proclaimed Pope under the protection of France. Wenceslas IV (Roden) is next up to be Emperor, and brother King Sigismund (Goode) and Henry of Rosenberg (Schweiger) want the power for themselves, so it’s been a constant Game of Thrones type sabotage, except with massive confusion. Rosenberg holds all the chips on the table due to having the largest bank account, Sigismund wants to be Emperor, and Boresh — a fictitious character placed here to be plot foil for the power-hungry — wants to end the schism and quarrelling.
This is where the headache in Medieval ensues, there is simply WAY too much to follow with the narrative. There are constant fights, arguments, and plots happening to constantly think ‘I know what’s going on.’ But while it’s happening, there are a number of weapon-on-weapon fight scenes to witness, but unfortunately the best was saved for first.
Katherine (Lowe) is the niece of the King of France and engaged to King Sigismund. Boresh develops the bright idea to kidnap Katherine to turn Rosenberg’s pockets out, to Zizka’s chagrin, in order to pronounce Wenceslas IV as Emperor with the funding. This sadly turns into another trope, the damsel in distress, and it drives the entire vehicle into a ‘sorry, the princess is in another castle’ type affair.
“Medieval‘s story is parallel to the Western Schism, and since Emperor Charles IV’s death, there has been a growing tide of ‘it’s all about me’ throughout the realm.”
Every big player in the game has designs on kidnapping Katherine to the point of madness. By the time Medieval hits the final act, the climax feels hurried and confusing. However, there are some bright sides. The action sequences are well done and winces happen regularly. We also get to witness how Žižka obtained the One-Eyed legendary status. Although, there is a cave fight scene that brought me back to Game of Thrones’ ‘The Long Night’ episode, which is never a good thing. You just can’t tell what’s happening, and tilting up on your seat frustratingly does nothing to the camera angle.
The musical score on display in Medieval heightens during tense sequences, and sound effects during combat are sublime, hats off to Philip Klein, Jesper Tøffner, Steven Rosenblum, and Dirk Westervelt for the fantastic editing and well-done shots during the massive runtime. The scene where Katherine washes her hands of blood in a river, it gave immediate flashes of Lady Macbeth’s manic episode in the Shakespearean epic.
The main bad — which honestly, it feels like everyone is a bad guy besides Zizka and Katherine — who is oddly Sigismund’s pet dog, Torak (Møller) just feels forced. He’s such a bastard it’s hard to believe, and while the film is trying to build its story, Torak is built as the final boss, which isn’t awful by design. Torak has no character either, he’s a dog because woof, and it feels like he wants to kill Zizka because, again, woof. Bad antagonist building, but a solid performance by Roland Møller.
But this is what Medieval ultimately feels like, an excellent cinematography slideshow that can’t stay together. Without prior knowledge of the source material, it feels like a confusing mess. The 126-minute runtime covers some serious content, but the pacing just can’t keep up and in the final 45 minutes a romance subplot, tortured protagonist’s past, and family quarrels divert the natural sequence of the film, and it just tries too hard to cover all bases. Medieval forgot to care about the characters, and that’s its biggest blunder.
Medieval may be an action-packed bone crunching film, but the story elements have too many additions to even warrant a taste. A good big budget attempt by director Petr Jákl, whose other directing credits include the low budget Ghoul and Kajínek, but it just misses the mark. There is untapped greatness here, the action scenes are MUST-SEE, and if you like action combat films with maces, swords and arrows (who doesn’t?), this film is a good enough option.
This content was originally published here.