Don’t let its name fool you. The new Hulu Original “The Princess” is no bubbly family-friendly Disney fairytale. Nope, this proudly bloody and brutal medieval action-thriller goes out of its way to buck every possible expectation people usually have for ‘princess movies’. Director Le-Van Kiet goes for the jugular (quite literally) and his star Joey King is certainly committed. But it’s hard to get past how silly and simplistic this girl-power period piece turns out to be.
Calling the film “silly” seems trivial considering at times the movie itself not only acknowledges its silliness but embraces it. But the “simplistic” part is harder to shake. There’s very little character-building (and what we get never gets beyond surface-level) and there is no world-building whatsoever. An unnamed princess trying to save an unnamed kingdom from a remarkably bland villain (but hey, at least he has a name).
In reality, all of that story stuff is simply there to serve the movie’s greater interest – scene after scene of hack-and-slash action. It’s like “Tangled” meets “Die Hard” but minus the interesting characters and entertaining hook. “The Princess” feels like one single act of a movie stretched out to feature length. Admittedly, it has a fun bit or two and there’s nothing inherently wrong with one-note movies like this. But “The Princess” simple doesn’t have enough meat on its bones to give this attempt at an empowerment tale any substance.
In a chamber high atop a giant tower, the eponymous princess (King) wakes up in a white silk wedding gown with her hands shackled. Over a series of convenient flashbacks we learn that she refused to marry the power-mad Julius (Dominic Cooper) to whom she was betrothed. After leaving him at the alter, our princess (who the movie goes to great lengths to show is no damsel in distress) is kidnapped and locked in the tower. Meanwhile, her father the King (Ed Stoppard), who is benevolent towards everyone other than his eldest daughter, watches as his crown and family are taken captive by Julius.
After waking up, breaking free from her shackles, and violently dispersing of the first of many medieval meatheads, the princess begins her descent down the tower, offing foes and symbolically tearing off strips of her dress along the way. There are some good fights. There’s one against a horned gladiator; another versus a gold-armored knight. And there’s one set in the castle’s kitchen against Julius’ whip-cracking consort, Moira (Olga Kurylenko in a thankless role). But as we venture down the tower, the fight scenes tend to get clumsier and cornier (there’s one involving a string of pearls that’s so utterly ridiculous you can’t help but roll your eyes).
And that’s really all there is to the story. Co-writers Ben Lustig and Jake Thornton attempt to add a little depth by showing how the princess became such a capable fighter. But it’s hard not to laugh at the hilariously bad flashbacks especially when the hokey talk of “a warrior’s heart” begins. Yet there’s so much the movie doesn’t reveal. Take Julius, how did he gain so much power? How did he amass such an army? Or why did he even want the throne (other than the generic lust for power)? None of it is ever addressed.
While its blood-splattered, patriarchy-pounding energy carries “The Princess” for a while, its barebones story eventually runs out of gas. So it ends up hinging on the combat which ranges from occasionally electric to flat-out goofy. Sadly that’s not really enough to recommend this movie of moments but little else. Kudos to King though. This may not be the grandest introduction to the action genre, but she shows some chops. Enough for us to be curious for what her future in the genre holds. “The Princess” is now streaming exclusively on Hulu.