Hulu’s latest original movie, The Princess, puts an big action twist on the classic “princess in a tower” story that’s plenty enjoyable to watch…but maybe just once.
Although it kicks things off on familiar beats, with a princess—fast asleep—locked at the top of a tower, The Princess is anything but your traditional fairy tale. Instead, it’s an action filled adventure where the princess not only saves herself, but must find a way to protect her family and kingdom as well.
Directed By: Le-Van Kiet
Written By: Ben Lustig, Jake Thornton
Starring: Joey King, Dominic Cooper, Olga Kurylenko, Veronica Ngo
Release Date: July 1, 2022 only on Hulu
The story is told somewhat in reverse. As I said, it begins with Zoey King’s titular character chained up at the top of a tower, inside her family’s castle which is currently being overrun with soldiers/warriors of the cruel Julius (played wonderfully by Dominic Cooper), who will stop at nothing to take control of the throne. In order to help rescue her family from his clutches, she’ll have to literally fight her way through the tower.
As she works her way down, kicking all manner of ass along the way, flashbacks fill in the details of how we got there. Namely, her parents haven’t sired an heir to the kingdom in all this time, so in the name of “stability” agree to marry off their eldest to Julius. Turns out Julius is a Grade-A psychopath who only wishes for power. When the Princess has second thoughts on their wedding day and backs out of it, he goes a bit nuts and takes her and her whole family hostage until she reconsiders.
The back and forth between the past and present sets the stage for everything that comes. We get insight into the Princess’ upbringing and training that turns her into the badass we see, while also introducing some of the secondary characters who become important down the road.
Generally speaking, it’s a fairly straightforward plot, and coming in at a brisk 90 minutes, it does everything it needs to. You get just attached enough to the characters/story to engage with all the action, and the quick pace leaves you little time to ever feel bored. That said, I won’t go into more specific plot details in case you want to enjoy it completely fresh.
By and large I enjoyed The Princess. The action is pretty solid, bringing with it plenty of “holy crap” moments, while managing to feel grounded in important ways. For instance, the Princess isn’t an all powerful badass. We see her get injured, we see the fights take their toll on her and how she struggles with specific enemies. I mean, the ending isn’t really in doubt, but it sure makes the action feel more impactful as it goes down.
In many ways, watching The Princess felt much like watching a late 90s/early 00s action flick…for both good and bad. Its straightforward plot and high-octane action keeps you thrilled throughout its runtime, but it offers very little other than that. While it hints at bigger themes, there’s not enough deeper character beats to make them feel anything other than surface fluff.
In that old-school action way, every character feels pretty one-dimensional. This is great for the villain, where Dominic Cooper seems to be having fun playing up the dastardly role, but limits the overall story. Hell, the Princess isn’t actually given a name! She’s literally just “the Princess” throughout the whole film. This seems a bit contrary to the main theme about her getting to decide her own fate and be the person she chooses to be…but whatever.
The movie also leans on a number of those old-school action tropes. Not all of them are bad, but some of them are headscratchers. Stylistically, the film utilizes some shaky camera movements and quick, angular, cuts to make the action seem more dynamic and faster-paced. Considering Zoey King and Veronic Ngo actually bring the goods with their action scenes (obviously putting in a lot of work and having fun with it), it’s a filmmaking style that seems unnecessary. Rather than improving the action, it seems to detract from some of the more impressive moments.
Then there’s the lone Asian family working for the royal family being the martial artists who teach the Princess everything she knows. Moreover, she goes on to equal/potentially surpass the skills they’ve passed on. It’s an old, problematic, trope that isn’t even needed to tell the story they’re going with here.
I definitely enjoy a fun action flick, and having grown up on those 90s films, am certainly not opposed to the mindless aspect of them. In this regard, The Princess fits the bill quite nicely. The action is very good and fun to watch. You won’t be bored, and you’ll find yourself eagerly waiting to see how she takes down certain enemies.
When the credits roll, however, there isn’t much there for you to think about. It has some interesting ideas and things to say, but doesn’t seem terribly concerned with presenting them. The result is an action flick that’s fun, but forgettable. It’s the kind of movie that if you saw on TV while scrolling through channels, you’d probably stop and enjoy, but wouldn’t necessarily seek out.