The Woman King may rest on the conventional construction of established action epics, but it innovates with an eye-opening subject. This is the 1820s story of the Agojie, an all-female warrior tribe in the West African kingdom of Dahomey (modern-day Benin), against their adversary, the Oyo Empire. The saga is epic in scale, has a fiery heart, and features rousing battles. In that sense, it shares an affinity with popular classics like Gladiator and Braveheart. Similarly, this narrative blends a healthy dose of fiction into its historical facts for exciting entertainment.
The chronicle is titled The Woman King for good reason. General Nanisca is indeed at the center of the account. Viola Davis is a commanding presence as the lead, radiating steely resolve while exhibiting vulnerability. A traumatic incident in her past becomes an emotional plot component. However, this journey feeds off an ensemble of tributaries into a mighty river of sisterhood. Shiela Atim portrays Amenza; a spiritual advisor turned fighter who also happens to be Nanisca’s close confidant. Thuso Mbedu stars as a brash, young recruit. Nawi’s rejection of an arranged marriage will lead to a tender examination of her life. In a pot violently boiling over with fierce women, the most ferocious is arguably Lashana Lynch as an assured lieutenant. Izogie’s charismatic personality blends humor with intensity. The woman has sharpened her fingernails into razor-sharp daggers, and she isn’t afraid to use them.
The men are less important in this account, but John Boyega is a crucial ingredient as King Ghezo. His subtly affected demeanor comes across as an individual to jeer. Ghezo’s prosperous rule benefited from the trans-Atlantic slave trade that flourished during his reign. The practice of selling Dahomey’s prisoners of war (and some of their own citizens) won’t win him any fans. His choice does not sit right with Nanisca, and it becomes a bone of contention. Also, in one of the more cheesy developments is the character of Malik (Jordan Bolger), a half-Portuguese, half-Dahomean explorer who struggles with his identity. This is where the element of soap opera takes over. His long hair and sculpted physique would be more at home on the contemporary cover of a Harlequin romance novel.
The sheer existence of the Agojie was an anomaly. Back then, European visitors referred to them as the “Dahomey Amazons” due to their similarities to the warrior women of Greek mythology. Even today, this concept is a revelation. They were the real-life inspiration for the Dora Milaje in Black Panther. The Woman King is one of those fascinating records that begs for more study. Director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Beyond the Lights, The Secret Life of Bees) maximizes the screenplay by Dana Stevens based on a story by Maria Bello. Prince-Bythewood understands how to present a compelling movie. This chapter of unexplored history might have felt didactic if not for the crisp, explicit fight scenes choreographed by Daniel Hernandez (Avengers: Infinity War, Avengers: Endgame). They feel immediate and grounded in reality. The thrilling combat takes this informative tale to the next level into captivating popcorn entertainment. Learning can be fun!