‘The Princess’ review, Joey King is supposed to be a Disney princess, but not like that

There is a scene in Shrek where Princess Fiona, after awakening from her serene slumber, battles an army of armed forest men who seek to rob her. She wasn’t the princess archetype we had come to expect in the early 2000s. Here was a beautiful woman who, despite being saved by an ogre, could fend off injustice with both fists. The scene was fun, Fiona continued to surprise the audience with new depth of character, and Shrek conquered us all.

Now imagine that a fight scene lasted an entire hour and a half. Lose all the Donkey humor of Shrek, drop the onions, the romance between enemies and lovers, and all the Gingie goodness. If you wanted a movie of Princess Fiona battling enemies for her own freedom, although I don’t know why anyone would, look no further than Princess.

A princess fighting for her independence, interspersed with combat scenes and brutal weapons, is a good place to start. Princess just can’t get past the baseline, turning into a video game version of what could have been an exciting story.

Joey King is our nameless princess – simply “The Princess” – who we meet in the media as she battles a whole gang of troops looking to force her into marriage with an evil man, Julius (Dominic Cooper), their chief. Why does it start in the middle of the action? Not a scene later, we are already back to the beginning of the story. From beginning to end, Princess is battle scene after battle scene, not giving breath with jokes, expositions or literally anything else.

Even when Princess looks back at the young royal’s past life, the film focuses on her quest to become a powerful fighter. We never learn why she resists marriage, and we don’t get any other sort of character development other than: She’s a master swordsman. Princess can’t claim to be a “feminist” film when it reduces its heroine to a tattered dress with war wounds.

I cannot stress enough the “video game” aspect. Watching Princess feels like immersing yourself in a violent and ruthless quest to kill as many people as possible, with the dark color palette of a caffeine-free Diet Coke bottle. Princess is not comparable to the unnecessarily fun action films of Tom Cruise, nor heartwarming as Mulane, nor can it cast Joey King as the next no-frills Disney princess. If the film is not one, what is is it is worth it?

The main actress, The kissing booth queen herself, almost manages to save the wreckage. Joey King is more watchable than ever in Princess. She’s got good kicks, and there’s something to be said for watching Ramona from Ramona and Beezus stab a man through his eye socket. King always manages to have fun with his plans, no matter how absurd. I just wish she could have become a Disney Princess in a grander way. I’m talking about Amy Adams in Delighted big.

The best part is when King makes fun of Dominic Cooper, her future sworn enemy husband. The couple are at each other’s throats in a scene in which the princess says she “can’t wait” to marry him, so she can make every day of her life miserable. Line up in front of a hoarse, furiously growling Joey King against a smiling, maniacal Dominic Cooper. Silly, fun, but gone in two minutes. Back to the slaughter.

Cooper happens to be another failed casting choice. Dressed in jet black, almost bondage clothing, he looks like a member of Spinal Tap, or Patrick Star’s mesh version of The SpongeBob movie. As a Harry Potter character, I can only imagine Cooper in one role: his clumsy oh mama husband, distant and shirtless. Swapping out a dazzling jumpsuit for dark clothes doesn’t make her look mean; instead it looks like one of goth, young premiere daddies oh mama.

Towards the end of Princess, Miss Girl reveals that she doesn’t want to get married because she actually wants to join the army. This Mulane-esque arc is fine, but our princess never seems to have fun fighting. She’s good at swinging around a sword, has a killer punch, and a penchant for spin-kicks, but she never puts a smile on her face. Maybe it’s because she’s fighting for her life. But maybe Princess would be a little more exciting if King infused some of that youthful energy into the film.

She’s the Disney princess we know: witty, headstrong, with killer instincts. Why did we drop the spirit of Princess? Watching the fighter take on enemies I stood for a few minutes, a whole hour and a half of bloody stab wounds quickly got old.

Give me more feuds between Joey King and Dominic Cooper. Let’s see more of his personality. Princess tries to throw a feminist punch, but without saying anything, Joey King just breaks his fingers over and over.

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