Medieval Synopsis: The story of fifteenth-century Czech icon and warlord Jan Zizka, who defeated armies of the Teutonic Order and the Holy Roman Empire.
Warrior and military strategist Jan Žižka receives the biopic treatment in Medieval. Quietly hitting theaters after filming finished in 2018, Medieval boasts the distinct title of being the most expensive Czech film ever made (a $20 million production). The production team clearly held big aspirations for Medieval – going so far as to greenlight two video games that will coincide with the film post-release.
I’ve always had a penchant for historical epics, especially with the genre becoming increasingly infrequent in today’s marketplace. In trying to prop up Žižka’s fearless warrior image, Medieval stumbles mightly in its pursuits. Director Petr Jákl oversees a sincere yet dysfunctionally-assembled medieval flop that drearily plods along from start to finish.
For a project of such stature in Czech, Medieval shockingly embodies the pastiche of a low-rent, straight-to-DVD rip-off. Jákl and his production team often push their $20 million budget to its absolute apex, meshing earnestly-built sets with landscapes assembled from shotty CGI effects. The dichotomy creates a bewildering aesthetic – a visual style draped in murky imagery and oppressively washed-out color schemes. Jákl admirably attempts to mask the restrictions with flashy stylistic choices, including frenetic camera movements tailor-made for Žižka’s brand of grueling guerrilla warfare. Unfortunately, the gimmicky quirks can’t invigorate the lack of energy behind the camera.
Under the surface of Medieval’s technical snafus is an even more dilapidated screenplay. Jákl’s script gets bogged down in the histrionics of the Žižka legacy, throwing waves of stiffly-written exposition at audiences instead of defining much-needed character dimensions. The stuffy political dynamics here rival Star Wars The Phantom Menace in their lifeless dynamics, leaving it to the talents of Micahel Caine, Til Schweiger, and Matthew Goode to elevate wayward material. Not even the storied ensemble’s theatric campiness can provide a reason for viewers to stay awake.
As for Žižka, the character exists as nothing more than a brooding death machine. Star Ben Foster is one of the finest actors in the industry at eliciting insular textures from solemnly-spoken characters. With Medieval, Foster is left high and dry by a screenplay that seldom gifts him opportunities. There are moments where Foster’s sheer will draws life from the character’s tortured past, but most scenes leave Foster tirelessly sulking without proper motivation.
I do credit Medieval for approaching its subject with gravity and great intentions. It’s just a shame the results rarely inspire a captivating biopic experience.
Medieval is now playing in theaters.