Friday 16 September 2022

The Woman King (Movie Review)

Long before the Dora Milaje would grace the pages of fictional comic books, we had the real-life Agojie, an elite squad of women soldiers in the West African kingdom of Dahomey. And in The Woman King, those warriors are brought to life with all the flair one might expect from a summer blockbuster. But does the film actually deliver on the promise of the thrills seen in its trailers, or is it yet another example of Hollywood trying to cash in on an ongoing trend?

Set during the height of the rivalry between Dahomey and the Oyo Empire, the film follows Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), a new recruit of the Agojie undergoing training under the tutelage of their formidable leader, General Nanisca (Viola Davis). The women serve a young king named Ghezo (John Boyega), whose efforts to keep the peace with both the Oyo Empire and European slave traders grow increasingly strained. And when tensions go beyond his control, his loyal Agojie must prepare to face off against the forces of the Oyo Empire, led by the ruthless general, Oba Ade (Jimmy Odukoya).

It is clear that a lot of care must have gone into crafting a film like The Woman King. From its opening battle scene, you are immediately thrust into the harsh realities of its brutal world. Except it is one where there exists a lot of beauty as well, shown through the culture of the Dahomey. But none of that would mean anything if the film didn't also tell a compelling story, which, thankfully, it manages to do over the course of its 135-minute runtime. And while that story might take a lot of creative liberties and deviations from actual history, it never felt superficial or implausible.

The comparisons to Black Panther are inevitable of course, especially coming out just two months before its highly-anticipated sequel. But while the former had depicted its female warriors as nearly infallible killing machines, this one takes a far more realistic approach to its depiction by not shying away from showing its warriors take some painful licks and blows. That said, you can still expect plenty of action scenes that require some level of suspension of disbelief, none of which was enough to take me out of the movie.

This is because the film is anchored by truly great characters, and those characters were generally driven by solid performances across the board. Nawi serves as an appropriate surrogate for viewers to follow, allowing us to learn about the Agojie and their way of life. Despite her hotheaded ambition, I was quickly endeared to her desire to prove herself. Viola Davis was as well as captivating as ever, but it was actually John Boyega who garnered the most cheers in the theater where I saw the movie. I suspect that had a lot to do with his nigh-on perfect Nigerian accent and overall charm.
If I had any criticism to give about The Woman King, then it would be that its ending didn't quite resonate with me as strongly as I wanted it to. This is not to say that the film had ended on a downer, but just my way of expressing my disappointment at the fact that a certain plot thread hadn't been fleshed out more. I obviously can't get into what that was without also getting into spoilers, but I can at least say that it was a minor detail in the grand scheme of the movie, and chances are you might not even have the same problems that I had with it.

The Woman King is a historical epic that plays like a summer blockbuster. Its story and well-choreographed action scenes are sure to please moviegoers, but it is its excellent characters that work to elevate the movie above your typical popcorn fare. This is a movie that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible, irrespective of what you think about Hollywood trends or its so-called "woke agenda." Plus it is sure to scratch some of that Black Panther itch for those waiting for Wakanda Forever.


  1. It does look like a good movie, though I wonder if it will flop at the box office like that Ridley Scott movie The Last Duel. Historical epics aren't really an in thing right now.

    1. I suspect it will do substantially better than The Last Duel, due to great word of mouth and an overall lack of competition at the moment.

  2. I didn't realize it was based on real events. Does the long run time hurt it? I'm really starting to shy away from movies over two hours anymore.

    1. The pacing was just about right, although I believe the film could have been 15 minutes shorter without hurting its overall flow.