Slay the Spire
Directed by Le-Van Kiet
Starring Joey King, Dominic Cooper, Olga Kurylenko
Released July 1st, 2022
A shackled and wedding dress-clad princess (Joey King) must escape from a castle tower lest she be forced to marry an evil dude (Dominic Cooper) intent on taking over her land. Before the film is over, we will see this princess take on hordes of men (and Olga Kurylenko with a neat-o whip) bent on stopping this woman from deciding her own fate.
When was the last time a pop culture princess needed rescuing? Perhaps Princess Toadstool back in 1985? For the last few decades, princesses (and other young maidens) have been shown to be self-sufficient and not in need of rescuing in their stories. One might tire of fables with a strong female protagonist, and ask how many more of these stories are necessary? This line of questioning makes me recall when Ruth Bader Ginsberg was asked how many women would be ‘enough’ for the Supreme Court, and she answered, “When there are nine.” We cannot have enough stories of capable women, especially since it’s only been the norm (or approaching the norm) in the last generation.
These kinds of action movies were made and marketed to teen boys to watch with friends on Friday nights in the 1980s, and now they are being made and marketed for teen girls to watch during sleepovers. If that’s not progress, I don’t know what is. I imagine our titular character isn’t given a proper name because she represents every woman.
The Princess was released one week after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which made for an interesting context in which to view a film about the struggle and sometimes bloody fight for a woman’s autonomy. It was quite a cathartic release to watch this young lady stand up to every man who gets in her face in a quite bloody fashion. The violence is brutal, but instead of cringing at broken bones and gore it’s conveyed in a way to encourage the audience to cheer on the princess as she impales a baddie’s neck. Although rated R, I think most teenagers would be just fine with the action and applaud our princess’ victories right along with older audiences.
This is a film with many fun, fast-paced fight scenes. Thankfully, cinema is moving away from the close-up shaky cam fight scenes of the Bourne films and embracing the choreography of the John Wick films. The visual language of The Princess exists somewhere in between, with fun battles that are easy to digest. Not as harrowing as Atomic Blonde, not as indecipherable as Nolan’s Batman flicks, and heavily influenced by The Raid: Redemption.
Executive Producer Joey King, who also stars as the princess, keeps the film from becoming a dour affair. She is fresh-faced and upbeat, and even when getting smacked down by the hundredth nameless aggro male, she makes small comedic moments work. It looks like she’s doing most of her own stunts, which becomes more impressive scene after scene. The story goes that behind the scenes she kept telling director Le-Van Kiet “I need more blood on my dress!” You gotta admire that commitment. The Princess is a movie that is difficult to dislike; a straightforward premise executed bloody well.