Director Gina Prince-Bythewood continues on a fantastic streak; After his excellent delivery with The Old Guard – which did everything that the Eternals tried but better – he returns to the big screen with The Woman King, an exciting film experience full of action, feeling and many scenes of the great Viola Davis proving that she can kick ass as well as kick hearts.
I left The Woman King with a pounding heart, ready to join Viola’s army if she asks me, even if it means bringing her towels and water.
A bit of historical context; The Woman King is loosely based on the “Agojie”, also called “Mino”, an elite fighting group made up of women that existed in West Africa for three centuries, approximately between 1600-1904. The Agojie were an integral part of the Dahomey nation, especially during the reign of King Ghezo (Jon Boyega) when their numbers grew to over 6,000. And yes, the Agojie were hugely influential in the creation of the Dora Milaje, the royal guard in Black Panther (and possibly equally influential in the modern day incarnation of Themischira’s Amazons). At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how historically accurate it is, just as it didn’t matter watching 300, Braveheart or any of those “true fact” movies. I want to see action, and The Woman King pleased me from start to finish.
The main plot takes place during conflicts between the Dahomey and the Oyo, a powerful empire occupying Dahomey territories, demanding constant tribute, most of it in human trafficking to sell to France and the United States. Viola Davis plays Nanisca, the ruthless general of the Agojie, determined to end the abuse of the Oyo, and the slave trade, despite the fact that her King Ghezo increases her fortune with it.
We see the story mainly through the eyes of Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), a teenager whose rebellion caused her father to leave her at the gates of the royal palace, where she was welcomed as a recruit by the Agojie, falling under the mentorship of Izogie ( Lashana Lynch), one of Nanisca’s lieutenants, with the patience to handle Nawi’s strong character. Although the young woman wishes more than anything to become one of the warriors, she does not avoid being insolent even with Nanisca herself, who sees in Nawi the same fire in herself that makes her such an effective leader.
With Nawi we get to know the government system of Dahomey, the relations between the people and the revered Agojie, and the training, apart from connecting with Santo Ferreira (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), one of the villains of the story, a Portuguese who wants to participate in the slave trade. . The other villain is Oba Ade (Jimmy Odukoya), general of the Oyo, as unscrupulous as he is violent.
The action scenes are powerful, choreographed by Daniel Hernández, giving it a Hong Kong-style touch, and it is a pleasure to see Viola handing out cocoa with a machete in hand, while her fellow warriors cut, kick and fight their enemies in the open field.
The Woman King has some pacing flaws, and could have been more streamlined, especially because of a romantic subplot that feels out of place, but eventually we’re back where we came from, with Viola dominating every scene on screen, with several moments of the room applauding (including me) his courage and determination to finish off the enemy. The Woman King is one of those films that is best enjoyed in packed theaters sharing the adrenaline, suffering the defeats and acclaiming the victories, HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!
Podcaster, comedian, TV and film critic, Critics Choice Association member, Rotten Tomatoes certified critic, and cat daddy. Once when I was a child I went into a movie theater, and in a way I never came out.