The Princess, 2022.
Directed by Le-Van Kiet.
Starring Joey King, Veronica Ngo, Dominic Cooper, Olga Kurylenko, Ivo Arakov, Vasil Toshev, Martin Taskov, Katelyn Rose Downey, Kristofer Kamiyasu, and Mitko Angelov.
When a strong-willed princess refuses to wed the cruel sociopath, she is kidnapped and locked in a remote tower of her father’s castle. With her vindictive suitor intent on taking her father’s throne, the princess must save the kingdom.
The Princess doesn’t waste a second before tossing the eponymous forced bride into action. It’s arguably the brightest decision screenwriters Ben Lustig and Jake Thornton make for a variety of reasons; the story is a simple concept that doesn’t need any elaborate setup, and given the unintentional timing of the film’s release that saw bodily autonomy horrifically stripped from American women, one doesn’t exactly want a piece of pulpy feminism to take it’s time building up to a woman fighting back against an unwanted marriage for the sake of tradition and kingdom advantages.
Rising talent Joey King is also immediately established as a likable presence in the role, with the movie itself showing off stylistic in-battle camera maneuvers and some grit (one guard is repeatedly stabbed in the eye, although there’s not enough blood throughout most of the combat, and when there is, it’s lackluster CGI). She has woken locked up on the top floor of a castle, meaning that if she’s going to escape, it’s going to involve a reverse The Raid type situation, fighting her way down to the bottom. On paper, that is a terrific and tantalizing concept.
Then the script makes the mistake of breaking up that violent momentum with a plot and unnecessary flashbacks that seem only to exist to show off some of Princess’ (yes, most characters don’t have names here) training for anyone out there that requires pointless filler to explain her warrior strength, evasive moves, and agility. Meanwhile, there are glimpses of Julius (Dominic Cooper in campy villain mode). He has laid siege to the kingdom, presumably under the assumption that the King might back out of the arranged wedding and because he perceives him to be a weak ruler that caters to the needs of the people. When he is not threatening the rest of Princess’ family (which includes a mother and younger sister, the latter of which also factoring into the action once the film finally starts to embrace absurdity), Julius is barking orders at his henchmen to investigate the castle (bodies keep falling out of windows to the ground as a result of the carnage).
When The Princess does get back to the action, that too begins to feel generic and uninvolving. Directed by Le-Van Kiet (who has already done the unbelievably woeful shark movie The Requin this year), the proceedings start to feel like watching someone play a video game. The dialogue is corny and bad, but several action sequences start tearing pages out of that playbook, introducing supremely boring sneaking elements or enemies in different armor that may as well be boss battles (especially when accounting for the strategy that goes into defeating them).
Aside from a castle kitchen battle, most encounters are instantly forgettable and go to the well too many times on the same tricks and gimmicks from the opening fight. Princess has to rappel down the castle wall at one point while swinging back and forth from left to right in a platforming maneuver that will make one wonder if Le-Van Kiet just got done playing the Uncharted games and decided he wanted to transfer that template to a medieval action movie.
Things perk up somewhat during the third act when Princess is reunited with her combat trainer (Veronica Ngo) and makes one last stand against the villains. For whatever reason, this stretch is also far more graphic, but it’s also primarily bloodless, so the stabbings and physical contact don’t feel as visceral as they should. A decapitation towards the end looks as embarrassing as the environmental background heavily caked in CGI.
Even during moments of lunacy and with a physically impressive turn from Joey King, The Princess struggles to find its identity. The movie has all kinds of ingredients that should be thrown up on-screen right now, but no natural flair or engaging style. It’s a royal dud. However, there is a brilliant ending credits song choice that suggests what a more playfully entertaining experience The Princess could have been.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com