On paper, Lê Văn Kiệt’s The Princess certainly has an enticing premise. An unnamed princess (Joey King) sees her kingdom crumble down when it’s invaded by Julius (Dominic Cooper). He seeks to take the throne from the current King (Ed Stoppard) and marry The Princess, so the kingdom takes him seriously. He didn’t expect that the titular princess would pack one hell of a punch, able to fight Julius’ numerous bodyguards like they were nothing. And the movie is nothing but a series of action sequences, with the carnage growing more elaborate as it progresses. There’s little depth to the characters, but all is forgiven if the action is enthralling enough. Unfortunately, it’s the film’s biggest problem and hinders everything revolving around it.
None of the action scenes are compelling. None of them. And it’s a damn shame because that’s the only thing the movie throws at us–constant carnage for 94 straight minutes with no character development. As I said, it wouldn’t have been a bad thing had the action been enthralling. Still, the film’s aesthetic resembles the late 1990s/early 2000s direct-to-video or made-for-TV medieval films with little aesthetic flair and [very] bad action direction. Think of Steve Barron’s dreadful Merlin miniseries, DragonHeart: A New Beginning, or Uwe Boll’s In the Name of the King trilogy. You may not have seen these titles, but I did, and oh boy. They contain horrible production design, lifeless cinematography, paper-thin characters, ridiculous scriptwriting, and poorly staged action sequences.
These elements are found in The Princess and bog down every action setpiece. Whenever the movie has the opportunity to do something exciting, unfinished CGI hinders it down immediately, or the film cuts in the middle of a hyperkinetic camera angle that moves in the same fashion as James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad. The difference with Gunn’s film is that the editors knew when to cut to not overshadow the terrific stunt work on display. The Princess cuts in the middle of the action as if it wants to hide every possible thing even if the film is rated R. The film certainly earns its R-rating through a couple of cathartic moments here and there. However, more than once, it tries to hide the film’s poor stuntwork, cinematography, and production design through rough jump cuts and rapid editing.
Because of this, most of the action in The Princess is laughable. There’s not a shred of creativity; it’s as cut-and-paste and as lifeless as it comes. Even the film’s climax is disappointing when it’s supposed to be the “big” moment as The Princess teams up with her trainer, Linh (Veronica Ngo), and her sister Violet (Katelyn Rose Downey) to take down Julius and Moira (Olga Kurylenko). Credit where credit is due: Ngo, Cooper, and Kurylenko are the movie’s best parts and have loads of fun playing their respective characters.
It’s just a damn shame that everything else falls flat, save for a rocking score by Natalie Holt, who keeps impressing me with her versatility as a composer, especially fresh off her incredible compositions in Loki and Obi-Wan Kenobi. She desperately tries to elevate the material through her music and find a rhythm to the action scenes, even if the film itself has no ounce of rhythm and visual panache to it. As a result, you won’t believe how flat The Princess falls only a mere ten minutes after it begins. The potential was there, but the execution, unfortunately, didn’t cut it.
The Princess is now available to stream on Hulu in the United States and on Disney+ internationally.