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Movie Watch: The Woman King

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Bob Garber

Last week I wrote that critics were a little too eager to embrace the random-twist horror movie The Barbarian, due to the lackluster release calendar and the lack of a good movie in a while. Had those critics waited a week for him, they could have embraced “The Woman King,” an audience-pleasing historical epic. As it stands, the film deserves to be seen as a creative and commercial success, but it’s disappointing that it doesn’t get any more recognition for saving us from the hardships of August and September.

The film follows the Agozier, an army of female warriors who defend the African kingdom of Dahomey in the 1820s. The women, led by General Naniska (Viola Davis), dispatch slave traders from the rival Oyo Empire who want to sell captured women to Europeans. The Dahomean King Gezo (John Boyega) also deals with the sale of slaves to Europeans. Rather than trading slaves, Naniska hopes to trade harmless things like palm oil. He has some ears as a general, but he would have considerable influence if given the title of Queen. To be clear, it’s not the Queen, but the Queen who is important as a King. But for decades, no woman has been given that title. Nanisuka has to do something great to get it.

Often the ranks of Agozier are filled with women liberated from Oyo, but some come from Dahomey itself. Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) is a young woman gifted to the king by her callous adoptive father because she does not want to marry a rich scumbag who beats her. She soon decides that her wife’s life is not for her and she signs on to become Agojie. In a way she’s still beaten, but that’s on her terms. She doesn’t have many natural skills, but thanks to her perseverance and the guidance of her trainer Izogie (Rashana Lynch), she finishes first in her class. This brings her to the attention of Naniska, who sees a lot in Nawi.

Nawi’s performance at the graduation ceremony gets another spotlight from Agojie-banned Brazilian trader Malik (Jordan Bulger). I’d like to say that the romantic subplots are boring and unnecessary, but this movie wasn’t boring once I tried it. warns Nawi of an impending attack by

Can the Agojie defeat Oyo and its European allies? Will anyone be elected Empress? Have an incredible performance on the way? No spoilers for her first two questions, but you can answer yes to the third. Davis, Mbedou and Lynch are all set to go strong at the upcoming Oscar race. Try to guess which 10 second clip of her will be used to represent each actress at the ceremony. The good choices never run out.

Surprisingly, the weakest part of The Queen is the action scenes. Much of the combat is blade-based, and some sequences should be confusing and obscure so the film can stick to a PG-13 rating. For the first time in a long time, I heard heartfelt cheers and gasps from an audience invested in a character I only knew for a few minutes. Most franchise pictures don’t do well with characters that audiences have known for years. I hope this movie stays at the top of the box office for a long time.

Class A-

“The Woman King” is rated PG-13 due to its strong sequence of violence, disturbing content, thematic content, short language and partial nudity. Running time is 135 minutes.

Image credit Wikipedia