All this time, Viola Davis had to lead the troops.
In ” A woman is a king,” the always-regal Oscar winner is a mass of muscle, battle-scarred, and world-weary as General Naniska, head of the Agoji, an all-female warrior unit defending the West African Kingdom of Dahomey in the 19th century. Director Gina Prince-BythewoodWorld Health Organization there can be no pigeonsthe film is a throwback of sorts to the big, exciting, emotional war epics that used to be all too common at the multiplexes, with the twist that the action is driven by women rather than men.
But unlike some recent cinematic depictions of non-human armies, they didn’t need to turn to fantasy or comics to make The Woman King — just a story that isn’t widely taught. More people probably know Dora Milaje than Agoji, who actually inspired the Black Panther fighters.
The fact that they are not immortal like Wonder Woman is very powerful. There isn’t an indulgent Avengers-like battle moment here. There are no superpowers and no magic lassos of truth. The ropes here are just ropes, but deadly. They also fight with machetes and sometimes nails against rough men and often win. In other words, there are no tricks, Naniska explains, just skill (and bruises and scars). There’s a reason the young trainee described her as an old woman (any warrior should be lucky to be old).
The Woman King, written by Dana Stevens, is a classic “last stand” story with a grizzled war veteran in Davis, a recruit in Navi (a compelling and complex Tusa Mbedu) and the one who takes her under his wing. , Izogi (a great performance by Lashana Lynch, Captain Marvel and James Bond). Terence Blanchard provides an appropriately stirring score to the action, which, while violent, is carefully constructed to maintain a PG-13 superhero rating.
However, the world of “Woman-King” is not a paradise. The year is 1823, and there are rapes and unbridled hatred of women. Around slaves and colonizers. A young apprentice Na’vi arrives at the palace’s doorstep only after her father gives up trying to marry her off to anyone who wants to take her away, abusive or not. Not all women get along, royal brides look at soldiers. And Naniska also looks at women’s tears as a sign of weakness.
It’s also a very Hollywood version of what could have happened as they prepare to take on the mighty Oyo Empire, with some convenient revelations, love interests, a slightly idealized king figure (in John Baega) and old scores that someone needs to settle. In other words, this is not a history lesson on Agoji, although it may perhaps inspire some to seek it out or even write their own. The fact that there are few real surprises is not necessarily a bad thing either. The film is exactly what you need: a gripping and emotionally truthful spectacle that was required hell of a struggle just to exist.
However, I won’t say that Prince Bythewood should have been in charge of them all along either. If she started and stayed out of the action, we wouldn’t have gotten Love and Basketball or Beyond Lights, and what kind of cinematic landscape would that have been? But we should all be lucky that she will too.
“The Woman King,” a Sony/TriStar release in theaters, is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association for “sequences of intense violence, some disturbing material, thematic content, brief cuts and partial nudity.” Duration: 134 minutes. Three stars out of four.
MPA Definition PG-13: Parents strongly cautioned. Some content may not be suitable for children under 13.
This story was first published on September 15, 2022. It was updated on September 18, 2022 to correct the name of the West African kingdom depicted in the film. It was Dahomey, not Dagemia.
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