Secret Society of Second-Born Royals (hereafter simply referred to as “Royals”) is directed by Anna Mastro. It stars Peyton Elizabeth Lee, Niles Fitch, Isabella Blake-Thomas, Olivia Deeble, Noah Lomax, Faly Rakotohavana, Ashley Liao, Sam Page, Greg Bryk, Elodie Yung, and Skylar Astin. The film was released on Disney+ on September 25, 2020.
In the (fictional) nation of Illyria, Sam is the second-born child to the Queen of the country, who has an older sister preparing to take the throne. But Sam would rather be rocking out with her band, protesting and crying out for a downfall to the very royalty she was born into. Sam’s troublesome ways land her in summer school, but she finds herself in the company of exceptional individuals like herself who have developing super powers, and that they can learn to control them and work to join a group dedicated to protecting men and women around the globe. When a mysterious villain appears to wreak havoc on the forthcoming coronation, the group must put their knowledge and skills together to protect that which they hold dear.
I signed up for Disney+ last year well in advance of the service actually launching. One of my major reasons for doing so was the promise of original programming, including films and television series alike. Royals is the latest film to release direct to Disney+. Unfortunately, very little is original about this film, which borrows liberally from X-Men, Kingsman, and far better Disney Channel original movies.
If there’s one place I can praise Royals, it’s the casting, in particular the casting of Peyton Elizabeth Lee as Sam, the leading lady. She’s a spunky individual who loathes her royal birth, and while her rebellious attitude and teenage angst are nothing new, she’s the brightest shining light in this production. The rest of the cast, in particular the young actors who work hard to join the film’s eponymous group, do the best they can with the material they’re given. The film may not be original, but this is a fantastic cast despite that.
Sadly, there’s more working against Royals than in its favor. Literally everything on screen, you’ve seen somewhere before. The element of teens with exceptional abilities they’re learning to control is stolen straight out of X-Men, as are the powers themselves (one character even has Rogue’s exact power of being able to steal other people’s powers!) The royalty element and the training to join the group, being sent home with a memory erased if they fail, is stolen straight from Kingsman. Even the characters, solid as the actors may be, feel ripped off from better Disney Channel productions.
It doesn’t help that pacing and overused cliches are here in abundance as well. Have you ever seen a movie where a character disappeared or died under mysterious circumstances, only to resurface? What about one where there’s a traitor from within the group? Apparently the writers of Royals did, since these cliches are what drive the movie. The narrative lags at a snail’s pace in many places, and the first half hour seems to be setting up a move totally different from the one we get. One of the (apparent) most important relationships is between Sam and her (non-Royal) bandmate and best friend, but even this feels like an afterthought that could’ve been removed from the movie with no real loss of substance.
Royals has a solid cast with some terrific young actors, but it’s cliche- ridden, poorly paced, and rips off far better films. Since some of the actual X-Men movies became viewable on Disney+ a while back, why not just go watch those instead?
Rating: Two stars out of four.
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