Get more Mail & Guardian
Subscribe or Login

Review: Nigeria’s ‘King of Boys’ was a smash hit. Does the sequel do it justice?


Kemi Adetiba’s surprise 2017 box office mega-hit King of Boys is back. After the film’s runaway success, Netflix commissioned a sequel: a seven-part limited series, the streaming platform’s first from Nigeria. The small screen works as a more appropriate fit both for Adetiba’s notable propensity to embrace soapie dramatic excess and for the sheer breadth of the story she is telling. The original film had a staggering 169-minute run time.

The film was a treatise on the corruption of absolute power as told through the rise and fall of the protagonist, the instantly iconic Eniola Salami. The charismatic crime boss, played with manic glee by Sola Sobowale, has since become a fan favourite.

The Return of the King picks up five years after the events of the original. Salami, who fled the country to avoid prosecution for her crimes, returns to Nigeria as a free citizen. The first thing she does on arrival is announce she is running for governor in Lagos’s upcoming election. Her political ambition attracts more dangerous enemies, even as Salami faces the uphill task of reclaiming leadership of the underworld organisation she used to lead.

She also finds herself alone, after the tragic loss of her children. She is then forced to face herself, perhaps for the first time in her life. The contradictions and hypocrisies that Salami finds within are filtered through the instincts of her younger self, who also functions as her explosive id. Alas, the actress (Toni Tones) who plays this role hams it up so recklessly that it is drained of any proper impact. Elsewhere, the other actors do not fare much better, doing what they can with paper-thin roles.

For Adetiba and her team, finding the appropriate medium for the project was one thing, knowing what to do with it is quite another. The Return of the King is occasionally visually interesting, with flashes of excitement erupting at intervals as it pays homage to the storytelling gusto of popular Nollywood films of the nineties. However, while the film at least had Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather trilogy as a guiding text, the Netflix series sets off on its own adventure and struggles to spark the creative urgency needed to propel it across seven hours.

Adetiba repeatedly falls into old patterns, rehashing a lot of what worked the first time. The pressure to deliver hangs over the project and she chooses “bigger” every time she is faced with a creative decision. Bigger cast, bigger performances, bigger costumes, longer scenes, bigger plot twists and plenty of fan service.

But bigger doesn’t always translate to better and although The Return of the King delivers a thrilling climax that dials up the twists and the gore, the entire series feels slight, despite being heavy on plot. Instead of merely dialling up the sound and the fury, The Return of the King might have benefited from a deeper contextualising of the screenplay and more commitment to basic research.

The challenges start from the writing and extend to the heavy-handed approach that Adetiba takes to the material, consistently lengthening scenes with superfluous reams of dialogue; scenes that could easily be established with a look here, or subtext there. Adetiba retains sole screenplay credit, but it is clear dramaturgy isn’t her strong suit.

The nexus between crime and politics was already well established with the original King of Boys. The Netflix series updates the religious angle while retreading familiar arguments, all the while fully embracing nihilism.

But all is fair, it seems: in love, in war and on Netflix’s small screen. 

Subscribe for R500/year

Thanks for enjoying the Mail & Guardian, we’re proud of our 36 year history, throughout which we have delivered to readers the most important, unbiased stories in South Africa. Good journalism costs, though, and right from our very first edition we’ve relied on reader subscriptions to protect our independence.

Digital subscribers get access to all of our award-winning journalism, including premium features, as well as exclusive events, newsletters, webinars and the cryptic crossword. Click here to find out how to join them and get a 57% discount in your first year.

Wilfred Okiche
Wilfred Okiche is a Nigerian film critic based in Lagos. He has mentored film critics at the Durban International Film Festival.

Related stories


If you’re reading this, you clearly have great taste

If you haven’t already, you can subscribe to the Mail & Guardian for less than the cost of a cup of coffee a week, and get more great reads.

Already a subscriber? Sign in here


Subscribers only

South Africa breaking more temperature records than expected

The country’s climate is becoming ‘more extreme’ as temperature records are broken

More top stories

US fashion contaminates Africa’s water

Untreated effluent from textile factories in in Lesotho, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritius and Madagascar pours into rivers, contaminating the water

Deep seabed mining a threat to Africa’s coral reefs

The deep oceans are a fragile final frontier, largely unknown and untouched but mining companies and governments — other than those in Africa — are eying its mineral riches

Komodo dragon faces extinction

The world’s largest monitor lizard has moved up the red list for threatened species, with fewer than 4 000 of the species left

DA says ANC’s implosion has thrown local government elections wide...

The DA launched its 37-page manifesto on a virtual platform under the banner “The DA gets things done”.

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…