Kemi Adetiba and JRR Tolkien Walk into a Bar…(Review of KOB2) – ‘Joba Ojelabi

Review of King of Boys: The Return of the King

Coincidences are fascinating.

Kemi Adetiba’s King of Boys: The Return of the King, lends itself easily to coincidence. What are the odds that half a century after J.R.R Tolkien’s timeless trilogy, we would have a similar Nigerian story with the exact same title? 

Although both stories focus on wars around a ring, where Tolkien depends on high fantasy, Adetiba’s crime thriller is anchored on realism.  

Not a neophyte, Kemi Adetiba has evolved from a music video director to top auteur in Nollywood. Daughter of Mayen Adetiba, an actor reputed for major films in Nigeria’s 80s, her father, Dele Adetiba, is a seasoned sports broadcaster and advertising guru. 

From her directorial debut The Wedding Party to the big screen feature film King of Boys, Adetiba has shown her deftness in hoisting a production. Her latest project, King of Boys: The Return of the King, Netflix’s first Nigerian small screen series is no different.

King of Boys follows complex protagonist Eniola Salami and her struggle for power. 

Salami encounters betrayal in both her worlds as Aare ( played by Akin Lewis) tries to checkmate her in league with Makanaki (Remilekun Safaru) who attempts to usurp Salami. 

In the end, Salami loses both her children and is forced into exile in the face of corruption charges. She draws blood by plotting Aare’s indictment and imprisonment while Makanaki is shown to be fatally shot by Odogwu Malay (Illbliss).

King of Boys: The Return of the King is made up of seven episodes and begins five years after the movie ends. It opens with Salami’s return and her declaration to run for Governor of Lagos. With the help of Adetola Fashina (Deyemi Okanlawon) as her campaign manager, Salami plays politics the Nigerian way, weaponizing her grass to grace story.

She does it all: dancing at markets, trying to get endorsements from Reverend Ifeanyi (Richard Mofe Damijo) etc. Alongside Salami’s gubernatorial aspirations, she grieves her children amid internal conflict, endures a coup in the underground crime world, and the surprising return of Makanaki.

The plot leverages on the aftermath of events of the first King of Boys to create subplots. New characters are brought into the fold with complex backstories and mannerisms thrown into the main story. 

These stories don’t always cohere, leaving plot holes. For instance, Odudubariba (played by Charly Boy), a contender for Salami’s underworld boss position absent from the KOB1, becomes a major threat to Salami’s leadership in her five-year absence. Did he simply emerge from the void?

In A King’s Welcome, the younger Eniola, a physical representation of her psychic conflict, mentions Akorede (Makanaki) as one of the people Eniola is supposed to exact vengeance upon when she visits the graveside of her children. However, at this point, Makanaki is supposed to be dead as far as Salami knows.

Adetiba’s ability to create magic comes to the fore in the casting, which is done alongside Olushola Banke Samaiye. Every character seems suited to their roles.

Sola Sobowale retains her role as Alhaja Eniola Salami. And where the sequel demands finesse from Eniola Salami, the Gubernatorial aspirant- Sobowale does not disappoint. Rapper, IllBliss, returns as ‘Odogwu Malay’, de facto leader of ‘The Table’ in Salami’s absence. Illbliss’ selling points are his command of Igbo and his distinct mannerisms. 

Remilekun ‘Reminisce’ Safaru reprises his role as Makanaki who apparently survived the assassination attempt in KOB1 and is now out for revenge. Toni Tones also retains her role as younger Eniola and mostly plays the role of Eniola’s ruthless alter ego and reflection of former self. The peculiarity of Tones’ role is that it requires matching Sola Sobowale’s energy. Achieving this is no easy feat.

Ade Tiger, the character of Salami’s lieutenant played by Titi Kuti, is elevated. In KOB1, Kuti, not required to do much, gets away with average acting. This changes in the sequel. This new Ade Tiger participates in more elaborate dialogue across languages and is positioned at an important overlap in the plot. While Kuti gives his best, it just might not be enough as some of his lines feel dreary and robotic. 

For the new faces, we have Lord Frank, who plays Tunde Randle, incumbent governor and political opponent of Alhaja Salami; Richard Mofe Damijo as Reverend Ifeanyi, an influential clergyman caught in the dynamics of politics. RMD, as per usual, gets the job done. Nse Ikpe-Etim, who graciously plays Jumoke Randle, wife and political backbone of Governor Tunde Randle, delivers an exceptional performance. Taiwo Ajai-Lycett is cast in the role of the Randle matriarch and despite only appearing in two scenes, steals the show. 

Efa Iwara plays Dapo Banjo, a journalist who soon becomes a victim of his obsession with his work. Although most parts of his role in the overall plot seemed redundant, his character is ultimately smuggled into the greater narrative towards the end of the film. If only some of Banjo’s screen time could have been shared with a more pivotal character e.g. Ade Tiger.

Credited to Dr. Adebayo Adepetun, the soundtracks are meticulously created and selected to match the tempo and cultural contexts of the film. 

A notable scene occurs in the fourth episode, ‘The Devil’s Revenge’, where Jumoke Randle meets with Eniola Salami. In that scene, there is a transition from somber classical music to a more upbeat traditional sound as Salami walks in, preparing viewers for the ensuing encounter. 

Regarding costumes, the series could almost pass for a fashion show. Coupled with the quality of production, most of the actors glow through the film, with bias towards the female characters. This is unsurprising considering the entire KOB franchise is a testament of female dominance. The visual effects from KOB2 are still only slightly above average with some Vfx edits looking off.

A pertinent question (posed even by Adetiba herself) is, “has KOB2 broken the sophomore jinx?” Being the second project of the KOB franchise, has it outdone the first King of Boys film? 

Expectation is at the core of the sophomore curse. Whereas fans do not have high expectations of entirely new projects, second projects have to surpass, or at least live up to whatever standards set by the first. For Adetiba’s film, there is also the challenge of expansion; transitioning from a single feature film to a seven part series. Despite its imperfections, KOB 2 ticks the boxes. And even if it doesn’t do this by a mile, it lives up to expectation. 

Like the 2018 KOB film, KOB: The Return of the King closes with teasers that suggest a possible return. However, a return of the series will need strong synchronization with the existing plot. This is surely not going to be a walk in the park. But then again, there’s Tolkien’s safer alternative of letting things close with The Return of the King.

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