Watching Medieval, the epic new battle from director Petr Jákl, it’s hard not to be struck by how well it fits into its commercial niche. There’s an audience for historical action-adventure films that see hardened warriors go at it with old-fashioned weaponry, an audience that tolerates a certain level of gory effects, tactical jargon and brooding thinking. of a male role. This genre has a sliding scale of prestige, depending on budget level and stars involved, with plenty of high-end striving for Oscar glory from movies like Brave heart and Gladiator. Medieval sits somewhere in the middle and has no such aspirations, but this latest Ridley Scott movie still feels like a clear touchstone, encouraging a comparison that doesn’t turn out to be flattering. Already working with an extremely thin script, Jákl weighs down his film with an overly serious aesthetic, to the point that even the target audience might find the two-hour length difficult.
Based on the story of real Czech national hero and military legend Jan Žižka, played here by Ben Foster, Medieval opens with Europe on the brink of chaos following the death of the Holy Roman Emperor. Only the pope can crown a new one, and while the French gamble for power by electing their own pope, Žižka and his employer, Lord Boresh (Michael Caine), work to ensure the safe passage of their benevolent King Wenceslas of Bohemia (Karel Roden). in Rome for this purpose. However, they face fierce opposition from Lord Rosenberg (Til Schweiger), a wealthy nobleman with his eye on the Bohemian crown, and Hungarian King Sigismund (Matthew Goode), the scheming half-brother of Wenceslaus whose target is the whole Empire. Rosenberg withholds funds for the King’s trip, and Boresh has Žižka’s team kidnap his fiancée, Lady Catherine (Sophie Lowe) – who also happens to be the King of France’s niece – in hopes of catching him. motivate. But things soon go awry when Sigismund and his men get involved, and Žižka begins to develop feelings for his naive but kind-hearted captive.
With its various moving plays and Catherine as a political pawn that everyone wants but no one can afford to endanger, Medieval was blessed with pairing its action set pieces with a quality plot. Unfortunately, it relies too heavily on exposition to establish motivations and alliances, merely telling viewers each character’s purpose and letting it define them, instead of showing viewers who they are and develop their motivations from there. That pretty much leaves it up to the actors to project depth into their roles, and even with the talent on board, their success seems directly tied to the screen time they receive. Goode, for example, excels at being opaquely sinister, but as the Sigismund scenes pile up, it becomes clear that the film has no intention of stripping away the layers that seem to be in his performance. The two protagonists, Žižka and Catherine, draw a bit more attention from the script, in that they actually have a backstory. But their basic characteristics are established with the same repetition, and although they are granted real arcs, their growth is painfully slow. Neither is strong enough to serve as Medieval emotional anchor, and their romantic potential never provides the necessary spark.
On top of these script issues, Jákl crafts his film with a grating smugness. From an opening voiceover that begins by listing action movie buzzwords with an oppressively dark visual style throughout, Medieval seems to constantly tell its viewer how seriously they should take it, despite the lack of possessions to warrant such attention. This type of stylization can work when used to serve a larger artistic purpose, demonstrated well this year by Robert Eggers The man from the north, but this film has no such intention. If the lodestar is really Gladiator, then Jákl forgot about this film’s use of beauty to balance its horrors – the most enduring image, after all, is a hand drifting across a field of wheat. Missing either The man from the northunified sense of vision or Gladiatorthe quality compositions, the gloom Medieval can only collapse under its own weight.
The only real appeal of this film is its violence, and while some battle scenes offer some positives, this aspect, too, fails to realize its full potential. Medieval uses a wide array of weaponry to dispatch its characters, and there’s some very strong effects work that audiences of this film will surely appreciate. Plus, there’s a whole mid-game sequence that puts Žižka’s most famous military tactic to good use, and the film is never more engaging than when each step of his plan is gradually unveiled. However, some jerky edits make it difficult to really grasp the choreography of the fights and the fights suffer from a lack of stakes. It’s not because they hold back death and mayhem, but because the general lack of investment in the characters leaves the viewer indifferent to whether they end up dead or maimed. Unlike movies that are a back and forth of positive and negative traits, Medieval the problems are mounting, undermining the assets he has and leaving little reason to recommend him.
Medieval released exclusively in theaters on Friday, September 9. The film is 126 minutes long and is rated R for violent and macabre content throughout, and some nudity.