There’s a scene in Shrek where Princess Fiona, after waking from her serene slumber, battles an army of weapon-clad forest men looking to steal her away. This was not the princess archetype we’d come to expect in the early 2000s. Here was a beautiful woman who, though she was saved by an ogre, could fend off injustices with her own two fists. The scene was fun, Fiona continued to surprise audiences with new depth of character, and Shrek won us all over.
Now, imagine that one fight scene lasted an entire hour and a half. Lose all of the Donkey humor from Shrek, drop the onions, the enemies-to-lovers romance, and all of the Gingie goodness. If you wanted a movie of just Princess Fiona battling enemies for her own freedom, though I don’t know why anyone would, look no further than The Princess.
A princess fighting for her independence, laced with kickass fight scenes and brutal weapons, is a good starting place. The Princess just can’t make it any further than the baseline, spiraling into a video-game version of what could’ve been an enthralling story.
Joey King is our Princess, nameless—simply “the Princess”—who we meet in medias res while she battles a whole band of troops looking to force her into marriage with an evil man, Julius (Dominic Cooper), their leader. Why does it start in the middle of the action? Not one scene later, we’re already flashing back to the beginning of the story. From start to finish, The Princess is battle scene after battle scene, giving no breath for air with jokes, exposition, or literally anything else.
Even when The Princess is flashing back to the young royal’s earlier life, the film hones in on her quest to become a powerful fighter. Never do we learn why she resists marriage, nor do we get any sort of further character development other than: She’s a master of the sword. The Princess cannot claim to be a “feminist” film when it whittles its heroine down to a tattered dress with battle wounds.
I cannot stress the “video game” aspect enough. Watching The Princess feels like immersing yourself in a violent, ruthless quest to kill as many people as possible, with the grim color palette of a bottle of Diet Caffeine Free Coke. The Princess isn’t comparable to Tom Cruise’s uselessly fun action films, nor is it heartwarming like Mulan, nor can it present Joey King as the next no-nonsense Disney princess. If the film isn’t any of those, what is its worth?
The lead actress, The Kissing Booth queen herself, almost manages to salvage the wreckage. Joey King is as watchable as ever in The Princess. She’s got quite the sweet high kicks, and there’s something to be said about watching Ramona from Ramona and Beezus stab a man through his eye socket. King always manages to have fun with her projects, no matter how outlandishly absurd they may get. I just wish she could’ve become a Disney princess in a grander way. I’m talking Amy Adams in Enchanted big.
The best is when King is taunting Dominic Cooper, her nemesis husband-to-be. The pair are at each other’s throats in one scene in which the Princess says she “can’t wait” to marry him—so that she can make every day of his life miserable. Queue a raspy Joey King growling, furious, at a grinning, maniacal Dominic Cooper. Silly, fun, but gone in two minutes. Back to throat-slitting.
Cooper happens to be another failed casting choice. Suited up in jet-black, nearly bondage-esque clothing, he looks like a member of Spinal Tap, or the fishnetted version of Patrick Star from The Spongebob Movie. Like a character from Harry Potter, I can only imagine Cooper in one role: his goofy Mamma Mia hubby, aloof and bare-chested. Swapping out a bedazzled jumpsuit for dark clothes doesn’t make him look villainous; instead, he looks like one of the young goth dads from the first Mamma Mia.
Near the end of The Princess, Miss Girl reveals she doesn’t want to get married because she actually wants to join the military. This Mulan-esque arc is all fine and well, but our Princess never actually seems to be having fun fighting. She’s good at swinging around a sword, has a murderous punch, and a penchant for spin-kicks, but she’s never got a smile on her face. Maybe it’s because she’s fighting for her life. But perhaps The Princess would be a bit more exciting if King breathed some of that youthful energy into the movie.
That’s the Disney princess we’ve come to know her as: witty, headstrong, with killer instincts. Why have we dropped the wit from The Princess? While watching the fighter go toe-to-toe with enemies held me for a few minutes, a whole hour and a half of gory stabbing got old fast.
Give me more Joey King/Dominic Cooper squabbles. Let’s see more of her personality. The Princess attempts to pack a feminist punch, but without anything to actually say, Joey King is just breaking her knuckles over and over again.