The Woman King Review: A Rousing Historical Epic With Great Action And Even Better Characters [TIFF]

There’s something very old school about “The Woman King.” It’s a sweeping, rousing, crowd-pleasing historical action-adventure epic the likes of which Hollywood doesn’t make that much anymore, at least not well. It’s familiar in a welcoming way. And yet, at the same time, this is also something groundbreaking. Because unlike the Hollywood epics of old, “The Woman King” features a cast made up almost entirely of Black women, and there’s a Black woman, Gina Prince-Bythewood, behind the camera, too. Maybe one day we’ll get to a point where such a movie doesn’t feel groundbreaking, but here we are.

Even if it wasn’t groundbreaking, “The Woman King” would still be an absolute blast. It’s a film that isn’t afraid to get you cheering, although much of the subject matter is often overwhelmingly harsh. The key to all of this is that Prince-Bythewood and screenwriter Dana Stevens have assembled a wonderful cast of memorable, easy-to-root-for characters. Viola Davis leads them all, and as is a common fact by now, Davis is stellar. But she’s backed up by a spirited, funny, butt-kicking group of warriors. Davis plays Nanisca, a General in the West African Kingdom of Dahomey. It’s 1832, and Nanisca leads the Agojie, the all-female group of warriors loyal to new-ish King Ghezo (John Boyega). We’re introduced to Nanisca and her warriors in a pulse-pounding opening sequence that showcases Prince-Bythewood’s skill at crafting engaging, thrilling action. 

But then “The Woman King” settles down. The trailers would have you believe this is a straight-up action movie, and indeed, there is much incredible action to be had; the type of action that puts the endless stream of Marvel and other franchise action movies to shame. But “The Woman King” is also a character study, and Davis’ Nanisca, while always a commanding presence, isn’t really the main character. 

Lashana Lynch Steals The Show

Within the walls of the palace at Dahomey, the women of the Agojie live fierce and free. The other people of the kingdom think of them as almost mythical; beings that are unearthly and not to be looked at. But as Nanisca says, there’s an evil growing outside the palace walls. The slave trade — something even King Ghezo takes part in — is a blight in Nanisca’s eyes, even though it has helped make Dahomey very wealthy. Then there are the gun-toting fighters of the Oyo Empire, led by a cruel, slave-trading general, played with real menace by Jimmy Odukoya. Nanisca warns of both the threat of the Oyo Empire and the evils of the slave trade, but her King is hesitant to change old, familiar ways.

In the midst of all this enters Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), a 19-year-old handed over to the Agojie after she refuses to marry a man who freely hits her. Nawi is stubborn and brave, and she becomes our real lead character, guiding us through the world of the Agojie. To become one of them, Nawi — along with several other recruits — must endure a rigorous boot camp-style training program, and this takes up the majority of “The Woman King.” We watch as Nawi grows into a real warrior, while still ensuring Nanisca’s displeasure with her strong-headed ways. 

Nawi is taken under the wing of Agojie soldier Izogie who guides her through every step and dolls out droll advice. Izogie is played by Lashana Lynch, and in a cast full of heavy-hitters, Lynch is the real stand-out, turning Izogie into a funny, warm, but still deadly presence who loves to swill whiskey and sharpen her nails into claws. Every second she’s on screen is a treat, and I wanted more of her. The comradery that forms between Nawi and Izogie is wonderful, and Mbdeu gives a breakout performance in the process, making us care deeply for Nawi and her story. 

Action And Drama

“The Woman King” is inspired by a true story, and while I’m sure there will be some who loudly proclaim that the movie isn’t 100% historically accurate, I’m not concerned with that. No film is even 100% accurate, not even historical epics. Hell, “Braveheart” is loaded with pure fiction, and that won a slew of Oscars. Whether or not everything that happens in “The Woman King” happened in real life is inconsequential. What matters is it feels real to the world the film builds. We believe in the validity of these characters. Davis, one of the best actors of this or any generation, is in top form, making Nanisca into a complex, tenable figure. And everyone backing her up feels the same. 

The human drama is what drives “The Woman King,” but to be fair, the script never goes quite as deep as it could. No matter — “The Woman King” is so consistently powerful and emotionally exhilarating that we’re swept away by it all, rooting for the brave heroes and cursing the nasty villains. And gosh does that action sing. A few quirky cuts get in the way here and there (I’m guessing these are the result of some violence trimming to earn a PG-13 rating), but for the majority of the picture we can easily see the actors doing their own stunts, fighting and kicking and swinging and smashing and stabbing and at times running sideways up something in order to deliver a flying punch. 

There are more than a few moments in “The Woman King” that will have you fist-pumping and grinning like a goofball, amazed at energy of it all. And all that action is often aided by raw, real emotion which is handled deftly. Davis in particular seems to carry the weight of the world on her shoulders just with a single glance. We can feel that weight right along with her — and we can’t wait to watch her shrug it off so she can kick some ass. 

/Film Rating: 8 out of 10

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The post The Woman King Review: A Rousing Historical Epic With Great Action and Even Better Characters [TIFF] appeared first on /Film.

Post Author: martin

Martin is an enthusiastic programmer, a webdeveloper and a young entrepreneur. He is intereted into computers for a long time. In the age of 10 he has programmed his first website and since then he has been working on web technologies until now. He is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of and Online Magazines. His colleagues appreciate him as a passionate workhorse, a fan of new technologies, an eternal optimist and a dreamer, but especially the soul of the team for whom he can do anything in the world.

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