Based on the early life of famous Hussite commander Jan Žižka of Trocnov (Ben Foster), “Medieval” is like an old-timey superhero origin story. Žižka’s story is the stuff of cinema. He was a fearsome warrior, a hero who never lost a battle, so the story isn’t what bogs down the movie, it’s the telling of it.
Set in 1402, the film opens with the voice of Lord Boresh (Michael Caine). “Power, tyranny, Violence; Europe is engulfed in war, plague and famine.”
In other words, “Yikes!” The Holy Roman Empire is in chaos, following the death of its reigning emperor. To prevent King Sigismund of Hungary (Matthew Goode) from taking the throne by force, Žižka is conscripted to kidnap Lady Katherine (Sophie Lowe), the French fiancée of Lord Rosenberg (Til Schweiger), a powerful ally of Sigismund.
In retaliation, France sends an army to retrieve her. As the heat rises on the battlefield, so it does between Katherine and Jan, who, when he isn’t busy wielding an axe to fight against the corruption and greed of the ruling class, find the time to fall in love.
From the title on down, “Medieval” has a generic feel. It is bloody and brutal—with the appropriate bone-crunching SFX—when it needs to be, and features fine period details, but the storytelling is formulaic; “Game of Throne” Lite.
There are interesting elements, particularly regarding the warrior’s religious convictions and political leanings, but the Foster feels miscast. His trademarked intensity is missing, which is bewildering considering the amped up nature of the battle footage.
“Medieval” is ham fisted. The action scenes are absolutely brutal, featuring the kind of violence usually reserved for bloody horror movies. The political intrigue is convoluted, and for a film that aims to pay tribute to a real-life hero, inaccurate. It gets the tone of the time correct. The reaction of the rebellious locals, worn down by years of high taxes, feels authentic, but Boresh, for instance, the catalyst of much of the action, has been cut out of whole cloth. It feels as though the history has been manipulated to fit the story director Petr Jakl wanted to tell, rather than fashioning the story around the history.