Plot: When a beautiful, strong-willed princess refuses to wed the cruel sociopath to whom she is betrothed, she is kidnapped and locked in a remote tower of her father’s castle. With her scorned, vindictive suitor intent on taking her father’s throne, the princess must protect her family and save the kingdom.
Review: Fairy tales are a genre that has not been mined nearly as successfully as others like horror, science fiction, or even epic fantasy. Aside from a few outliers like The Princess Bride and Ever After, most fairy tale movies follow the Disney formula. Surprisingly, the new film The Princess comes from Disney subsidiary 20th Century Studios and delivers an unexpected action romp that defies the conventional fairy tale story in favor of John Wick-caliber action. It is a fun bloody romp that trades romance and happy endings for crushed skulls and disembowelings. In short, The Princess kicks all sorts of ass.
The Princess started out as a spec script from Ben Lustig and Jake Thornton. With John Wick scribe Derek Kolstad on board as producer, the film developed into the latest addition to the genre of unique action films alongside the Wick series, Atomic Blonde, and Nobody. The Princess does not deviate from the tried and true fairy tale setup of a princess locked in a tower who is being forced to wed an evil prince. The expected characters are all here including the duplicitous henchmen, the wise teacher who trains the hero, the beloved king and queen, and the spunky little sister. In many ways, The Princess emulates the groundwork laid by Disney and Pixar’s Brave which presented Merida as an adept warrior who just happens to be female.
Because I loved Atomic Blonde, I was really hoping that this movie would be in the same vein and I am happy to report that it very much is. Clocking in at barely over 90 minutes, The Princess is a non-stop action movie that barely slows down from the moment the 20th Century Studios logo fades off-screen. Joey King plays the nameless Princess who starts out the film locked in the tower after the dastardly Julius (Dominic Cooper) takes The King (Ed Stoppard, Queen (Alex Reid), and Princess Violet (Katelyn Ross Downey) prisoner. Almost the inverse of The Raid and Dredd, The Princess must descend the tower to free her family and their subjects. As she does, we see flashbacks to how The Princess came to be locked away as well as her training from warriors Linh (Veronica Ngo) and Khai (Kristofer Kamiyasu).
The plot of The Princess is a thin structure designed to propel the action sequences forward and it works wonderfully in that capacity. There is not a lot of subtext or deciphering needed in this story which allows the characters to exist around the hero to support her journey. Joey King excels in the lead as the confident princess who wants to be a knight. Like Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron, and Bob Odenkirk, you can tell that King is performing a great number of her own stunts throughout this movie which lends each fight sequence a lot more realism. Since this story is set in an age before guns, the predominant weapons of choice here are blades of various sizes, but the script allows for a large range of variations beyond swords. One such weapon is a whip employed by Julius’ lead fighter Moira (Olga Kurylenko). Aside from King, the majority of the heavy lifting in this movie comes from Cooper and Kurylenko who give solid twists on the mustache-twirling villain and prove to be solid antagonists.
Directed by Le-Van Kiet, best known for the Vietnamese movies Furie and The Ancestral as well as the Alicia Silverstone shark thriller The Requin, The Princess pulses with the same energy as the John Wick movies and showcases just as much bloodshed. Joey King does not play the title role as an indestructible fighter but one who has enough training to take down unsuspecting adversaries before they can adapt to her skillset. She endures injuries throughout the film and requires help at times, mainly from Linh. Veronica Ngo portrays Linh as a wise and skilled warrior in her own right but serves as a great mentor to The Princess as she grows into her abilities. There are many moments of humor peppered through this movie that lighten the mood, many of which are silly bordering on stupid, but they never detract from the propulsive pacing that keeps everything moving until the end credits roll.
I had so much fun watching The Princess that I never stopped to really question its flaws. There are some questionable special effects here and there but they are forgivable thanks to the non-stop ass-kicking fights and witty one-liners that fill this movie. Like most fairy tales, you know that everyone is going to live happily ever after, but the journey to get there is more fun than I expected. Joey King had already astounded with her acting range in The Act and now joins the elite of big-screen action heroes, male or female. Girls are going to find The Princess empowering and guys are going to have a blast too. This is a crowd-pleasing good time that should absolutely make it onto your weekend watch list when it hits Hulu.