Shortly after King Adegbite’s coronation, a mysterious group of robbers begin to ravage the kingdom of Ajeromi. But Agesinkole and his band are no mere thieves. What they cause is a tussle of mystic forces with the kingdom, and Agesinkole’s invincible powers seem steeped in something more vicious than the king and his people can comprehend.
Odunlade Adekola is compelling as King Adegbite. The dynamic between him and producer Femi Adebayo’s Agensikole in an early scene is entertaining. They trade threats, Adekola capturing the arrogance typical of a new ruler, and Adebayo, electric as Agensikole, with the rage of a vengeful man. Yet this personalisation of the broader story suffers as Adegbite gradually, regrettably, starts to be side-lined by Yinka Olaoye’s script. One can only imagine what would have come of the struggle between two men bound by their pasts.
Like Adekola and Adebayo, the rest of the cast embrace theatrics. Toyin Abraham is the fierce and enigmatic Queen Bonuola whose husband becomes increasingly perturbed by her witchcraft abilities. Ibraheem Chatta is not particularly memorable as the young hunter Oguntade, and Lateef Adedimeji holds his own in an uncharacteristic dramatic role as a fellow hunter. Unfortunately, their characters fall victim to insipid simplicity, courtesy, perhaps, of the script.
King of Thieves barely resists being tedious. (Despite the improbable prelude of the film, Segun Arinze’s baritone is a fitting narrative voice.) An exciting start tapers into a rather monotonous sequence of events, with much of the suspense waning as the story progresses. The film also treads a didactic line, reminiscent of Old Nollywood, and yet its lessons are unclear in the end.
It would have been an opportunity to interrogate several layers of potential internal conflict: between Agensikole’s righteous indignation and the rancour he inflicts on innocent men, women, and children; between the justice due him and the rightness of vengeance against a kingdom for the actions of a very few, dead men. The story wants to tell us about the reach of history, but only partly.
Undercut by an unflattering hue and lacklustre shots, King of Thieves is far from a visual delight. One-dimensional characters, needless scenes, occasional long-winded dialogue, and a rushed last act weigh it down.
Nevertheless, the three men at the helm (producers Femi Adebayo and Adebayo Tijani, with the latter co-directing with Tope Adebayo) portray precolonial Yorubaland with pomp, colour, detail, and rich costuming that reward the film with breadth. It is also a thrilling display of mysticism and, in a country cruelly dismissive of reparation, a welcome exploration of the consequences of past injustices.
While it is not layered enough to probe questions arising, what we get — an interesting story — is still sufficient. (It pulled in N320 million and reaped eight bids at the 2023 AMVCAs, including for Best Overall Movie, Best Drama Actor for Femi Adebayo, Best Director, Best Writer, Best Picture Editor, Best Makeup, Best Soundtrack, and won Best Art Director for Wale Adeleke.) Yet it could have been more. ♦
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