The Princess is a showcase for the talents of Joey King, but the film is overwrought with over-the-top villains and redundant action scenes.
This review of the Hulu film The Princess (2022) does not contain spoilers.
Joey King is a young actress with a built-in audience, and for the most part, she holds her own in the new Hulu action film, The Princess, a new movie that looks at medieval action pictures through the new me-too movement lens. It is an exciting choice in her career. King shows the willingness to not look perfect in every shot. She is battered and bruised. Her hair is matted, she is sweaty and bleeding, and according to a simple Google search, she did 85% to 90% of her stunts. It has rough and tumble action, but this is not The Last Duel. If anything, this feels like a young adult or CW incarnation of dozens of better movies we have seen.
King plays The Princess, an unbreakable young woman who is trying desperately to fall hardbitten to male toxicity. Her father, the King (Ed Stoppard), has no male heir. To protect his kingdom with a smooth transition of power upon his death, he offers up his daughter to a cruel, pretty boy, Julius (Dominic Cooper, every casting director’s go-to for that description). Because, of course, only a man can take the throne. The Princess will have nothing of it as she has been training to be a knight all her life.
By whom, you ask? Her trainer is Linh (Ngô Thanh Vân), who teaches her how to fight with a sword and her mind. With the approval of her mother, the Queen (Alex Reid), the Princess refuses to marry Julius, which causes him to lock her at the top of the remote tower. (Like most of these films that lock away women, they make sure to lock her away with only the best views the kingdom has to offer). From there, it is a chase to escape the clutches of the evil heir and save her family.
The Princess was directed by Le-Van Kiet (Gentle) and written by Ben Lustig and Jake Thornton. It is enjoyable through the first two acts because the film, despite its plot, never entirely takes itself too seriously. For one, King combines enough comedy with action to make scenes feel believable and even exciting. A nice mixture that many films of the genre tend to forget. The set-piece, though, tends to be clunky and does not transition as well as it should. This is a function of the writing that I like to classify as a videogame script. The Princess is fighting her way down the tower for the movie’s first hour. Essentially, each floor is a level, and she must beat and take on increasingly more armored bad guys as she proceeds.
The action also surprisingly works. Too often, there are action-adventure films where the hero takes on multiple people. Then, you see the attacker wait for the main character to turn around to strike them in the torso. Kiet and cinematographer Lorenzo Senatore (Hellboy) smartly use a camera trick to help with that effect. You will notice a scene where King fights off three men at a table when trying to free her family from the tower prison. When King strikes one man to the left, he falls off-camera because the lens then moves to the right for the next attack, and so on. Now, all the action is not pristine. For instance, you will get random groups of attacks just standing around when they should bum rush. You have others run and do somersaults when they can, you know, just lightly descend the stairs.
Unfortunately, the entire film in total does not work. The film has nice elements of comedy, including King and an amusing gag of a winded bad guy who keeps running around to find our hero but misses her. However, the third act is overwrought with obscenely over-the-top villains like Cooper’s Julius and his right-hand woman, Moira (Olga Kurylenko, Quantum of Solace). Multiple action scenes by the end begin to weigh down the script and are pure filler, even head-scratching when they escape from one room to go back, which is redundant. The ending does not work and is too cheesy for its own good.
You may have many, particularly the Gen-Z crowd, who will enjoy The Princess, which is fine — most mainstream hits are decided by youth. However, for all its positive attributes, The Princess does not outweigh the obvious flaws in execution.
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