‘The Woman King’ review: Viola Davis stars in an action spectacle about female warriors
Although “inspired by true events,” “The Woman King” is not overtly connected to them, using the underlying story of 19th-century women warriors in an African kingdom as a jumping-off point for an exhilarating action vehicle. has been increased considerably. of melodrama. The combination produces a strong performance for the stars, featuring a cast and backdrop that serves to refresh its old-school formula.
As regal as always, Viola Davis provides the film with its rock-solid core as General Naniska, the leader of the Agoji, better known as the Dahomey Amazons, a unit of women who advance the martial arts. Vows to marriage and motherhood to increase and protect the kingdom. It’s an egalitarian streak within a society where the king (John Boyega) still has a huge harem.
The entry point into this warrior culture is Na’vi (“Underground Railroad’s” Thuso Mbedou, with another powerful performance against a large canvas), an independent-minded, strong young woman who refuses to marry for money, in the end motivates him. Despondent father leaves him in the palace.
There, he is taken under the wing of Izogi (Lashana Lynch, adding to an action resume that includes “Captain Marvel” and “No Time to Die”), and is trained to undergo brutality that eventually would admit him to this core of the elite. the troops
The ensuing boot camp – which would surely serve as a source of inspiration for modern-day exercise programs – coincided with preparations for a potential war against a rival kingdom, the Oyo Empire, which had exacted tribute from Dahomey for years. K moves forward. Naniska, meanwhile, urges the king to withdraw from his participation in the slave trade, arguing that selling captured enemies to Europeans has created “a dark circle” as they quickly infiltrate their lands. Intrude
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Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love and Basketball”), the broad outlines of the story are, quite simply, a lot to digest, especially with the various subplots and Naniska’s back story thrown into the mix. bounces (Script by Dana Stevens, who shares story credit with actor Maria Bello.)
Shot in South Africa, the film helps bridge some of the narrative gaps by opening with a brutal action sequence, showing just how terrifying Naniska and her loyal soldiers can be. This is the first of many such encounters, and although the scene is carefully shot to minimize the gore, the level of violence and the look of the war are such that a PG-13 rating seems suspiciously generous.
Naniska worries that her warriors “don’t know that an evil is coming,” a tease for the pending battle against Oyo. But “The Woman King” is perhaps best at portraying this fascinating subculture across time and place, while incorporating a decidedly modern tone, playing like a celebration of African traditions, and still Friday-night. Caters to the escapist demands of the audience.
Prince-Bythewood accomplishes the latter goal with brisk pace and sheer muscle of exercise, aided significantly by Terence Blanchard’s epic score. With its heavily female and almost entirely black cast, the film could give a welcome boost to other projects that have historically struggled in terms of studio support.
Somehow, the film manages to feel like a throwback to old action films while featuring people who were allowed to play leading roles back then. If the ending is a bit too busy to be as uplifting as intended, by then, “The Woman King” makes the most of its powerful arsenal.
“The Woman King” premieres in US theaters on September 16. It is rated PG-13.