Medieval (Review) – If Gladiator Was An 80s Mercenary Flick

DIRECTOR: Petr Jákl

CAST: Ben Foster, Michael Caine, Til Schweiger, William Moseley, Matthew Goode, Sophie Lowe, Karel Roden, Roland Møller, Kevin Bernhardt, Ondřej Vetchý, Marek Vašut, Jan Budař, Vinzenz Kiefer, Magnus Samuelsson, Werner Daehn, Alistair Brammer, Jennifer Armour, Sean Connor Renwick, Viktor Krištof

RUNNING TIME: 126 mins

CERTIFICATE: 15

BASICALLY…: In the 15th century, military commander Jan Žižka (Foster) leads an uprising against the Holy Roman Empire…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

Are you familiar with Jan Žižka, the legendary warrior of Bohemia (aka the Czech Republic today) who supposedly never lost a battle? I certainly wasn’t before watching the historical “biopic” – a phrase used in the loosest of terms here – Medieval, and even after watching it, I still have no idea. All that this film tells me about him is that he’s basically a low-rent version of Russell Crowe in Gladiator, which I feel is probably undermining a lot of the actual Žižka’s efforts, many of which are subsided in favour of a much clumsier narrative with a level of gore and violence usually reserved for an 80s-era Cannon Films movie.

The film is more of an origin tale of sorts, introducing Žižka (Ben Foster) as the leader of a pack of mercenaries serving under Lord Boresh (Michael Caine) in 15th century Bohemia. As part of a convoluted plot to help the land’s ineffective King Wenceslas IV (Karel Roden) secure the role of emperor in the Holy Roman Empire, Žižka and his men are tasked with kidnapping Lady Katherine (Sophie Lowe), the fiancé of powerful nobleman Henry III of Rosenberg (Til Schweiger), and niece to the King of France. Once Žižka makes off with the fair maiden, Rosenberg and the King’s scheming brother Sigismund (Matthew Goode) send as many soldiers after them as possible to get her back – but in the process, Žižka manages to inspire a legion of put-upon peasants to rise up against their oppressors, setting the stage for major conflict much further down the line.

Admittedly, Medieval doesn’t fall into the usual biopic trap of covering pretty much every significant life event inside of one, barely containable movie, which I’ve always felt is something that is best reserved for a miniseries rather than a two-hour narrative. However, the film doesn’t do much else to really explain why this historical figure is worth caring about, because not only is the character himself written to be nothing more than a rather bland and generic protagonist, but by placing him in a (mostly fictional) scenario where we know for a fact that he and many of his allies are going to make it out in predominantly one piece, you never entirely feel the stakes are high enough to get invested in. It’s difficult to get invested in most other things, because aside from a few sneering villain performances here and there, most of the acting isn’t gripping enough to carry a film like this, and there are a lot of stock dialogue choices that make some of the more noble moments in the movie feel unintentionally funny, purely for how overused they are.

However, for all of its flaws, both in the storytelling and even aspects of its filmmaking – there are scenes where it is clear as day that Michael Caine’s lines are being dubbed over by ADR work, to a point where I had to rewind a couple of times just to make sure that it wasn’t a glitch on the screener I was sent – it isn’t a complete waste of time. Writer-director Petr Jákl’s approach is interesting, going for the feel and sometimes the tone of a mercenary flick from the 1980s, particularly ones by Italian filmmaker Antonio Margheriti like Tiger Joe or Code Name: Wild Geese, wherein you’ll have a similar set-up – a paid gig, in this case kidnapping a maiden with links to royalty, soon goes south – followed by plenty of excessively gory violence. To give you an idea of how violent this film is, this is one where heads are cut off, people are endlessly impaled with spears and knives, eyes are sliced open (and then treated with maggots that were previously feasting on a rat’s corpse), soldiers are crushed to death by a falling cart of rocks, and there’s even a lion that literally comes out of its cage to do lion stuff during the climax. Some of it can certainly feel excessive, to a point where you could almost call it an exploitation film, but where it counts is in its dedication, and Jákl fiercely commits to delivering as gory a show as he can while still keeping things relatively tame in other departments.

The violence is the most engaging part of the film, which otherwise feels slow and pedestrian in delivering the kind of historical epic it so clearly wants to depict. Most of all, though, it doesn’t do the greatest job of making its central figure an interesting one to read more about; all you’ll really get from this film is that Jan Žižka was this pretty bland mercenary figure with an arc that’s almost Gladiator and The Northman by way of the legendary Hollywood failure The Conquerer, right down to the significantly miscast lead actor (although Ben Foster as a Bohemian warrior is way easier to buy than John Wayne as Genghis Khan). Other than that, there’s nothing to make you want to look up more about his exploits beyond what Medieval depicts, which for something intended to be biographical (sort of) marks the film’s biggest failing of all.

SO, TO SUM UP…

Medieval is a well-meaning but ultimately clumsy attempt to depict the origins of legendary Bohemian warrior Jan Žižka, failing to make the figure interesting enough for unfamiliar audiences to read more about afterwards, although writer-director Petr Jákl earns some points for his intriguing approach that best resembles an 80s mercenary flick, right down to some excessive but sometimes amusing violence.

Medieval will be released in cinemas nationwide on Friday 28th October 2022.

It will also be available to rent/buy on digital platforms, including Sky Store, Amazon, Rakuten, Virgin, iTunes, Microsoft Store, Google Play, and Chili.

Did you like this review? Want to know when the next one comes out?

Sign up to our e-mail service today, and get our latest reviews and previews sent straight to your inbox!

Search from over ten years of movies here:

Other recent reviews:

Sting (2024, dir. Kiah Roache-Turner)

A mysterious little spider soon grows to terrifying sizes…

Furiosa: A Mad Max Saga (2024, dir. George Miller)

A young Furiosa attempts to make her way home in a post-apocalyptic wasteland…

The Garfield Movie (2024, dir. Mark Dindal)

The lazy cat Garfield comes face-to-face with his long-lost father…

The Strangers: Chapter 1 (2024, dir. Renny Harlin)

A couple find themselves tormented by masked intruders…

IF (2024, dir. John Krasinski)

A young girl develops the ability to see people’s imaginary friends…

Hoard (2024, dir. Luna Carmoon)

A troubled teen begins a dysfunctional relationship with an older man…

Kingdom of the Planet of the Apes (2024, dir. Wes Ball)

Many years after the reign of Caesar, an ape-ruled kingdom comes under threat…

The Fall Guy (2024, dir. David Leitch)

A Hollywood stuntman winds up on an epic misadventure during his latest gig…

Tarot (2024, dirs. Spenser Cohen and Anna Halberg)

A group of teenagers find themselves haunted after messing with spiritual tarot cards…

The Idea of You (2024, dir. Michael Showalter)

A 40-year-old single mother begins a relationship with a much younger pop star…