Limited Series Review- King of Boys: The Return of the King

In its first iteration, Kemi Adetiba’s King of Boys was notably long with its running time almost clocking 3 hours. For its long-awaited sequel, Adetiba chose the format of a limited series to tell this long-winded epic tale of crime, corruption, and political intrigues between denizens of the underworld and their upper-crust cousins in the political circle.

It’s been 5 years since Eniola Salami’s (Sola Sobowale) mischievous fourth-wall-breaking gaze at the camera drew the curtain on King of Boys. The Return of the King opens with a live television news broadcast from the airport announcing her return from exile sequel to charges against her being dropped.

She wastes no time on niceties and immediately makes a beeline for the seat of power by throwing her hat in the ring of upcoming gubernatorial elections in Lagos State.

In the underworld as well as in the upper crust political circle, her return ruffles feathers and sets off a series of events that sets in motion (albeit lethargically at first) the storyline of this sequel.

As with King of Boys, Adetiba pays homage to her music video directing background in the Return of the King. The grandiose fluff of impressive elaborate costumes is matched by the menace of dark-shaded muscle-bound goons in black trench coats and leather gloves. The contrived spooky ambience of fluorescent and candle lights is heightened with slow-mo and artificial smoke.

She, however, ditches the flashback story-telling device of King of Boys and favours instead a Yin and Yang playoff between the younger Eniola (Toni Tones) and the older one to depict the crossroads of a crisis of conscience and self-flagellation that confronts the lead protagonist-antagonist. This switch in story-telling device particularly works as it enables both actresses to play off of each other with impressive acting chops.

As with King of the Boys, the Return of the King is not without its own share of negatives and signature Nollywood failings that inspire reactions from the viewer that typically swing from your basic sigh and eye-rolls (sigh-rolls, if you will) to cringe-worthy abeg abeg!

Thankfully, while the pendulum of the negatives and failings in The Return of the King frequently hit the former marker, it didn’t stray far enough into the territory of the latter. A few of these are worthy of mention.

Nollywood movies are notoriously unable to pull off convincing extras crowd scenes, press conference scenes, political rally scenes and the like. This much is evident in the Return of the King from the opening airport arrival scene, Salami’s declaration of her intention to run for the office of Governor, the market campaign scene, and the post-letter bomb scene (the last of which was totally unnecessary for inclusion in the series given how poorly it was done).

The continuity gaffe in Nse Ikpe Etim’s Jumoke Randle spotting the same hairstyle in a story that spans months is particularly jarring. Also jarring is the fact that while the story timeline puts Salami’s return from her 5-year exile in the COVID-19 pandemic year 2020 (the headstone from her daughter’s grave states 2015 as the year of her death), save for the few masked aides in Governor Randle’s office scene, the face mask and social distancing protocols were rarely reflected in the series and the notion that electoral campaigns and elections could have taken place in the year of a global pandemic and lockdown just beggars belief and questions the series’ period authenticity.

Another failing was in the signature pedestrian treatment and depiction of the political theme and Dapo Banjo’s (Efa Iwara) investigative journalism. Convincing treatment and depiction of technical themes have always been an Achilles heel for Nollywood movies.

Performance-wise, Sola Sobowale delivers impressively as the older Eniola Salami but with her signature histrionics in some scenes that would have been more impressive had they been tempered down with restraint.

A truly gifted actor but contrary to popular belief, the magnificence of Sobowale’s talent shines more when she acts with restraint than with her signature histrionics.

Blessed with a commanding screen presence, Sobowale’s facial expressions typically emote acting brilliance far better than most, and she deployed this to great results in several scenes in this series.

But, by far, my stand-out performance in this series was Taiwo Ajayi-Lycett’s scene-stealing cameo (reminiscent of Dame Judi Dench’s 8-minute Oscar-winning turn as Queen Elizabeth I in Shakespeare in Love) as the mohawked matriarch of the Randle family. She delivered her lines (and elevated the script in her two scenes, I believe) with the controlled magnificence of her signature nuanced enunciation.

Following closely will be Akin Lewis’ Aare whose scenes provided the series’ truly comical moments. For what is, arguably, his debut acting role, Charly Boy gave a mildly impressive performance as underworld kingpin, Odudubariba, fluffed with a liberal dose of his bejewelled and androgynous Charly Boy persona and, perhaps, a touch of the equally bejewelled and androgynous King Xerxes in Zack Snyder’s 300.

The Return of the King unfurled lethargically in the first few episodes of the series burdened needlessly by contrived scene-filler subplots like the Reverend Ifeanyi (Richard Mofe-Damijo) scenes, Dapo Banjo’ family and work scenes. The time and energy expended on those scenes/subplots could have been better deployed to developing Makanaki’s character and story arc.

But redemption does arrive in the seventh and last episode where Adetiba really goes to work in delivering a fitting and shocking denouement to this epic tale of crime, corruption and power play with a twist and counter twist that keep you on the edge (reminiscent of the Red Wedding episode of that other epic tale of power tussle, Game of Thrones)all set to a fitting pulsating soundtrack elevated even more by the incantational self-adulation by the young and old Eniolas which, for even more fitting dramatic effect, should have ended in a direct-to-camera fourth-wall-breaking gaze as in King of Boys. 7/10

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Esosa Omo-Usoh

Lawyer, movie reviewer, music lover, one time regular writer of unhappy poems inspired by Rock songs, daydreamer and people watcher… in that order.