The Woman King movie review: interesting or not?

Oscar-winner Viola Davis has shown her range on television and in film in a variety of roles, including lawyer, housekeeper, housewife, and singer. The list goes on. In Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Woman King, she takes on her most fleshed-out role as General Nanisca, who leads the Agojie, an elite squad of female warriors to protect the West African kingdom of Dahomey. Due to threats from neighboring Oyo and the slave trade by Europeans, Naniisca and her soldiers are always on hand to protect the defenseless.

But as the battle with the Oyo people and slave traders intensifies, Agojie must recruit fresh blood and train them well. Among them is the rebellious Nawi (Tusso Mbedu), abandoned by his family for disobedience. Jogi Lee (Lashana Lynch) and Amenja (Sheila Atim), Naniska’s longtime trusted warriors, oversee the training of the new young women. The general must also convince Dahomey’s King Ghezo (John Boyega) to be on the right side of history and condemn the slave trade that destroys people in exchange for weapons and goods.

The historical saga, which unfolds along the lines of an all-female Gladiator, is impressive as General Naniska heads towards an emotional crescendo where she is finally recognized for all the hard work she has done her entire life. Based on real events, screenwriter Dana Stevens continues the old and new story of the strong female bond formed between Agojie. Just as the older generations pass on their wisdom, the younger ones also have something to teach them.

Mbedu plays the impulsive but well-intentioned Nawi, exuding her exhilaration. She and Nanisca discover a connection between them that no one expected. The South African actor got his star-making turn in The Woman King. Lynch’s focused Izogie and Atim’s no-nonsense Amenza also stand out from the cast. But ultimately, this is Davis’ film where the 57-year-old absolutely nails it with her usual intensity. The role is both physical and emotional, and Davis doesn’t disappoint as she keeps pace with her much younger co-stars.

Several subplots about a European slave trader, particularly a man with Dahomean roots, get a little muddled at times as they deviate from the main action and follow the main thread of Stevens and Maria Bello’s story. But when Prince-Bythewood sticks to the action, the film soars as Agojie tries to match any male warrior. The battle scenes are wild and gruesome, showing the ruthlessness of both sides fighting for their beliefs. Energetic scores from Terence Blanchard and Lebo M also add to the relentless battlefield experience.

Set in 1823, the story is set in history and deals with issues that are still prevalent, from sexism to racism. The characters, particularly Naniska, have consciences that cannot be quenched. Agojie has a ‘fight or die’ battle cry, and it’s this audacity that keeps the film going even as the storytelling falters during its 135-minute running time. With a mostly female crew and cast, The Woman King is an impressive and empowering story of black excellence and power.

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