THE WOMAN KING (NETFLIX) (2022)
SYNOPSIS: The Woman King is the remarkable story of the Agojie, the all-female unit of warriors who protected the African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 1800s with skills and a fierceness unlike anything the world has ever seen. Inspired by true events, The Woman King follows the emotionally epic journey of General Nanisca (Oscar®-winner Viola Davis) as she trains the next generation of recruits and readies them for battle against an enemy determined to destroy their way of life. Some things are worth fighting for…
The success of Black Panther opens up the possibility of a diverse cast in a diverse narrative. The Woman King is one of those few titles that benefits from it and frankly it’s a crowd pleasing war epic that easily surpassed any of the CGI-heavy blockbusters playing in the theatres.
Academy award winning actress Viola Davis plays the lead character, General Nansica, a highly revered commander of Agojie, an elite force consisting of all woman soldiers tasked to protect the Dahomey Kingdom. Beside acting as an unofficial adviser and protector for the young King Ghezo (John Boyega), Nansica is also in charge of training the next generation of Agojie with the help of her confidante, Amenza (Shelia Atim) and Izogie (Lashana Lynch). In the meantime, a tough trainee named Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) is being recruited while Nansica’s biggest enemy, General Oba Ade (Jimmy Odukoya) returns to haunt her with the help of a group of colonizers.
From the get-go, Gina Prince-Bythewood (The Old Guard, The Secret Life of Bees) unleashes a truly remarkable viewing experience in the great grand tradition of Gladiator and Last of the Mohicans. The narrative easily transport viewers to 18th century Africa with its lush display of authentic costume design, production design and dance choreography. The actual on-location shooting in South Africa actually helps rather than shooting in the presence of greenscreen.
Nevertheless, it’s the powerhouse performances of the cast that greatly sells the intensity and intimacy of the story. Davis delivers an iconic, energetic portrayal of the suffering warrior, a character that hides a dark secret and her eventual conquering of her enemy. Along with her is Nawi, a young warrior that mirrors the equally tough Nansica played competently by Thuso Mbedu. Shelia Atim and Lashana Lynch also delivers excellent memorable supporting performances as well in their respective well-written roles.
The action choreography generally is impressive with many of the action scenes focusing on hand-to-hand combat between the female warriors and their enemies. While the editing and choreography is occasionally frenetic, the violence and gore factor for once should rises above the PG13 rating to enhance the chaotic affair.
The Woman King easily accomplished what Captain Marvel and Rey of Star Wars fails to do that is to come up with a believable female warrior. Nansica and Nawi demonstrates the journey of fighting their way through every obstacles in their life instead of simply granting the characters unlimited powers and wisdom. The characters here worked hard for their goals and displayed a huge amount of teamwork and girl power. Despite a flawed subplot involving Nawi and a forbidden romance, The Woman King is an amazing piece of cinematic treat. Pity it’s overlooked during awards season.
Review by Linus Tee