‘The Woman King’ Review: Viola Davis stars in action show about warrior women


Although “inspired by true events,” “The Woman King” is clearly not tied to them, using the underlying story of 19th-century warrior women in an African kingdom as a starting point for a vehicle of ‘encouraging action, increased by many. of melodrama This combination offers a strong showcase for the stars, with a cast and backdrop that serves to update its old-school formula.

Gifted as always, Viola Davis provides the film with its solid core as General Nanisca, the leader of the Agojie, known as the Dahomey Amazons, a unit of women who swear off marriage and motherhood in favor of the arts martial arts and defend the kingdom. It’s an egalitarian streak in a society where the king (John Boyega) still owns an extensive harem.

The entry point into this warrior culture comes through Nawi (“The Underground Railroad’s Thuso Mbedu, in another powerful performance against a vast canvas), an independent-minded and headstrong young woman who refuses to marry for money, and finally pushed her in. frustrated father to leave her in the palace.

There, she is taken under the wing of Izogie (Lashana Lynch, who adds to an action resume that includes “Captain Marvel” and “No Time to Die”), and is trained to submit to the brutal regime that will finally admit him into this elite body. troops.

The training camp that follows, which will surely serve as a source of inspiration for today’s training programs, continues in concert with the preparation for a possible war against a rival kingdom, the Oyo Empire, who has extorted tribute from Dahomey for years. Nanisca, meanwhile, urges the king to distance himself from his involvement in the slave trade, arguing that the sale of captured enemies to Europeans has created “a dark circle” as they are brought in more and more more in their lands.

viola davis gives king

‘My body went through hell’: Viola Davis training like a warrior for the next film

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood (“Love & Basketball”), the broad outlines of the story are simply a lot to digest, especially with the various subplots and Nanisca’s backstory thrown into the mix. (Screenplay by Dana Stevens, who shares story credit with actor Maria Bello.)

Shot in South Africa, the film helps bridge some of the exposition gap by opening with a brutal action sequence, showing just how fierce Nanisca and her loyal soldiers can be. It’s the first of several such encounters, and while the scenes are carefully shot to tone down the gore, the level of violence and form of warfare is such that a PG-13 rating seems questionably generous.

Nanisca worries that her warriors “don’t know that evil is coming,” a taunt for the pending battle against the Oyo. But “The Woman King” perhaps excels most in portraying this fascinating subculture given its time and place, playing as a celebration of African traditions while incorporating a decidedly modern tone, while still catering to the escapist demands of a Friday night audience.

Prince-Bythewood has achieved the latter goal with the exercise’s brisk pace and sheer muscle, with a major assist from Terence Blanchard’s epic score. With its all-female and almost all-black cast, the film could give a welcome boost to other projects that have historically struggled with studio support.

Somehow, the film manages to feel like a throwback to the action films of old while featuring people who were rarely allowed to take prominent roles back then. If the ending is a little too busy to be as exciting as intended, then “The Woman King” has made the most of its formidable arsenal.

“The Woman King” opens in US theaters on September 16. It is rated PG-13.

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