“Middle Ages” opens with some clarifying dialogue and a couple of bone-chilling, but otherwise flat action scenes. This crash course in Czech history is often compelling for its intricate details, but rarely for its characterizations, dialogue, or dramatic tension. However, it is a function Michael Caine as Lord Boresh, a grumpy Imperial advisor who grumbles about magisterium in a few scenes and also helps build the film’s plot.
Speaking of the plot: after an overly complicated series of double crosses and secret allegiances, the sullen Žižka finds himself caught in a feud between the well-liked but powerless Bohemian King Wenceslas (Karel Roden) and his journeyman brother Sigismund (Matthew Goode). Žižka and his men are accused of abducting Lady Katherine (Sophie Lowe), Lord Rosenberg’s independent fiancee (To Schweiger), one of Sigismund’s allies. Žižka and Katherine hit it off immediately, though it’s never entirely clear why based on their halting conversations about God or Foster and Lowe’s general lack of chemistry.
Unfortunately, “Middle Ages” doesn’t get any better after Žižka takes it upon herself to protect Katherine from Sigismund, who wants to depose his brother and is also willing to betray his friend Rosenberg to do so. There is an impressive antagonistic chemistry between Foster and Roland Mollerthe latter of whom plays Torak, Sigismund’s main tongue.
There are also some suitably outrageous fight scenes, all of which are either overexposed or hyper-stylized to the point of distraction, and sometimes filmed with surreal and overly physical hand-held camerawork, all of which approximate some kind of you-are-there disturbance. Various body parts are smashed to pieces, soldiers are knocked off their horses, and metal grinds against metal. The stunt work and period weapons in these scenes all look fine, and some of the special effects and compositing look expensive enough. But the real MVPs of “Medieval” are the foley artists and sound designers, who made every metallic scrape and meaty squelch seem more exciting than anything shown on screen.
There’s a heaviness to even these propulsive beat-em-up sword fights that creep in from earlier dialogue scenes that tend to drag out and look like someone accidentally dialed all the wrong settings on their new high- definition television. Too bad Foster’s Žižka doesn’t get to say much in conversation that makes him seem like a game-changing leader. He tells his men that if they choose to fight with him, it would be for a “good cause” and “it’s a good death.” They respond by singing about being “God’s soldiers”, which seems presumptuous, but ok.