The greatest praise I can give to a historical movie is that it made me want to learn more. The Woman King delivers on that front. The film is about the Agojie, a group of all female warriors protecting an African Kingdom in the 1820s. Viola Davis leads the group, but the film really focuses on the new recruits into the team as they work towards gaining admission. In the process, the film has some important things to say about slavery (the slave trade is a major feature of the movie) and empowerment of women. While the messages come through loud and clear, The Woman King manages to avoid taking the viewer out of the story by being too heavy handed.
The movie features some excellent fight scenes, with swords and hand to hand combat that pushes the edge of its PG-13 rating. The fighting is well choreographed and visceral. While the fighting is great, particularly the final third of the movie, what really stands out is the acting, with the film being chock full of excellent performances. Viola Davis has established herself as an excellent actor by winning the triple crown of acting (Academy Award, Emmy, Tony), but she surprised me with the physicality she brought to her role. Davis is excellent, but the film’s supporting cast is where it shines the brightest. The Woman King manages to give enough focus to supporting roles to allow us to invest in them. Lashana Lynch (Maria Rambeau in Captain Marvel) in particular stands out and steals every scene she is in. Even the less well developed characters are given enough personality to give them a distinct character (unlike the random other pilots in Top Gun Maverick).
The Woman King isn’t perfect, it has a few side plots that seem to pad the movie a bit (a half-hearted romantic subplot in particular fails to land) but the film does a nice job of tying them back into the main plot. There are also a few plot contrivances that rely on a bit too many coincidences. Finally, the movie uses the cliché where two antagonists in a crazy battlefield somehow find each other and square off. Those minor points aside, the film is an excellent historical epic that has the advantage of looking at a period that hasn’t had (to the best of my knowledge) a chance to live on film yet.
Here is the podcast version of this review: https://anchor.fm/darren-shulman/episodes/The-Woman-King-e1o1ku8
Score 8.5 (out of 10)
The Woman King is now in theaters in the US, and will be released on October 4th in the UK.
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