In the 1800s, a group of all-female warriors protects the African kingdom of Dahomey with skills and fierceness unlike anything the world has ever seen. Faced with a new threat, Gen. Nanisca (Viola Davis) trains the next generation of recruits to fight against a foreign enemy that's determined to destroy their way of life.
'The Woman King' is the closest to the likes of 'Braveheart' or 'The Last Of The Mohicans' that blockbuster cinema has gotten in many years.
In an era of superhero-themed action flicks filling up the multiplexes, a film like 'The Woman King' almost feels like a novelty, but director Gina Prince-Blythewood effortlessly recalls Hollywood action films like 'Spartacus' and instils her athletic sensibility in the film.
'The Woman King' tells the story of the Agojie, an all-female group of warriors in the Kingdom of Dahomey in West Africa, with Viola Davis lending her gravitas to the lead role of Nanisca, the top general within the Agojie.
Davis is one of the greatest actors working in the industry today, and 'The Woman King' is a film worthy of her immense talent, demonstrated in the first five minutes when Davis gets a true movie star entrance.
The Oscar winner is able to keep audiences in the palm of their hand with nothing more than her facial expressions, with is the true test of any superstar, and at times, even by saying nothing. Regal and vulnerable, stoic but tender, and tough but gentle.
Davis is joined by a great cast, with Lashana Lynch of 'No Time To Die' fame turning in a star-making performance as Izogie. It takes a spirited performance to match Davis' inherent charisma, and Lynch makes it look effortless. John Boyega, meanwhile, reminds audiences of how capable an actor he is after the 'Star Wars' sequel trilogy let his character down.
If the film has a breakout star, it's South African actress Thuso Mbedu as Nawi. In her first film role, she goes toe-to-toe with Davis and very much holds her own, and it is incredible to see an actor turn into a star before your very eyes.
Gina Prince-Blythewood is one of the most versatile directors working today, with her most notable credit before this being the 2020 Netflix action film 'The Old Guard', as well as her romantic dramas 'Beyond The Lights' and 'Love and Basketball'.
Here, the action sequences flawlessly combine old and new, mixing the best of traditional swashbuckling Hollywood action with more modern sensibilities, with Prince-Blythewood's own background in athletics informing a lot in 'The Woman King', and it's refreshing to see action scenes where the camera lets you see what's taking place and doesn't feel the need to cut away every 2 seconds.
'The Woman King' is at its best with its big crowd-pleasing moments and the only major problem 'The Woman King' has is a somewhat unnecessary romantic sub-plot that detracts from the pacing, expanding the film past two hours.
With that said, when the rest of the film is so entertaining and smart, we can forgive a breather sequence or two.
All told, 'The Woman King' is a special film with a timeless quality to it. It could have come out in 1962 or 1992, but by coming out in 2022, it is the absolute best version of what this particular story can be.