REVIEW – “The Woman King”

The Woman King begins with an opening crawl, explaining to the audience the history of the African Kingdom of Dahomey and the Agojie – it’s unit of fierce, ruthless female warriors. It quickly transitions into a steady yet mesmerizing, enthralling action sequence that focuses equally on the spectacle of the action sequence itself, but also showcasing the characters individually and what they bring to the table in battle. These opening moments define the rest of the film beautifully – The Woman King feels so old-fashioned in the sense that it’s a crowd-pleasing, big-budget historical epic with sweeping action sequences and beautiful production on all accounts – but it’s also deeply character driven and lives and dies by the charisma of its insanely talented and stacked cast.

As previously mentioned, the film follows the Kingdom of Dahomey – but there’s a primary focus on General Nanisca (Viola Davis) as she trains the next generation of recruits for the Agojie. This proves to be a hard test for most of the women who get involved, even having a few of them dropping out before the training actually begins. But a young woman named Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) is determined to see the vigorous training through to the very end and become a fierce warrior so she doesn’t have to become a wife or mother. Nanisca and Izogie (Lashana Lynch) both set their eyes on her as she rises through the ranks, while the enemy becomes stronger and begins to threaten their King Ghezo (John Boyega) more and more intensely.

From top-to-bottom, every member of the cast here kills it. Whether it’s from someone like John Boyega who admittedly has limited screen presence and takes a bit of a backseat role to the ladies in this film, to someone like Lashana Lynch, who may be a supporting character but legitimately steals every single scene she’s in due to pure charisma and genuine bad-assery – everyone is quite excellent. Viola Davis is fantastic here, turning in a deeply emotional performance while also coming to play when it comes to the intense and brutal action sequences. Consider how good Davis is, it’s really remarkable that relative-newcomer Thuso Mbedu stands toe-to-toe with her as a co-lead of sorts. Everyone is truly remarkable here.

Director Gina Prince-Bythewood continues to impress behind the camera, as this might even be her best work yet. Since the beginning of her career, she’s always had a focus on characters first and foremost – and The Woman King is no exception. This is the type of blockbuster that fully delivers on the spectacle and action sequences that you would come to expect when seeing a historical epic, but it absolutely isn’t afraid to slow down to get to know the characters, stakes, and learn important pieces of history along the way. And the fact that all of these dramatic, character-driven moments actually payoff means the action is all the more worthwhile and exciting because you actually care about the characters and whether or not they’ll make it through. There’s stakes, heart, and a ton of fun. What a blockbuster should be!

There are some elements to the story here that feel a bit generic at times and I think it could benefitted from tweaking the pacing in certain scenes – but these nitpicks hardly matter when it comes to a film that’s as earnest and sincere as this is. It’s so genuinely refreshing to see a film that, for the most part, succeeds at delivering everything you’d come to expect from this story.


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