Viola Davis wins as a warrior in uneven ‘The Woman King’



Rated PG-13. At AMC Boston Common, Regal Fenway, AMC South Bay and suburban theaters.

Category B-

Wakanda forever. Dahomey? Not really. “The Woman King,” a film starring and produced by Viola Davis, is set in the early 1820s in the West African nation of Dahomey. Davis quite ably plays Nanisca, the leader, a general in fact, of a group of Dahomey female soldiers known as the Agojie. They serve the king of Dahomey Ghezo (a strutting John Boyega), a strong young chieftain with a harem full of scheming wives, a nervous adviser (Siv Ngesi) and a fierce enemy seeking to conquer his people and sell the prisoners. to European and American slaves. traders.

In the opening scenes, the father of a rebellious young woman named Nawi (South African Thuso Mbedu) angrily drives his daughter to the king’s modest palace and leaves her there to join the Agojie after she refuses to leave. marry the violent man her father chose. At the palace, where the Agojie live and train, Nawi causes a lot of trouble. She calls the heavily scarred Nanisca an “ordinary old woman” and clashes with fierce Lieutenant Agojie Izogie (Lashana Lynch, “No Time to Die”). Before all of this, we see the Agojie attack a group of male soldiers and cut them down. The real enemy are the soldiers of a nation known as the Oyo Empire, the Oyo scoff at the idea of ​​female warriors. Their leader is Oba Ade (Jimmy Odukoya), a big, sadistic bully with an evil glow and big biceps.

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood of the R-rated, “The Old Guard” directed by Charlize Theron, “The Woman King” is a PG-13 rated film about sword fighting. We see a lot of seemingly PG-13-sanctioned butchering, but not a lot of decapitation or loss of limbs. This lack of realism detracts from the dramatic seriousness of well-staged fight scenes. Made with an obvious budget and shot in South Africa, the film is completely professional. But his depiction of Dahomey is modest. Most of the action takes place near a coast, where we see western ships arriving, carrying two Portuguese-speaking men. One of them is slave trader Santo Ferreira (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), the other is a handsome mixed-race sailor named Malik (Jordan Bolger). The son of a slave and a slave trader, Malik has deep reservations about slavery and becomes Nawi’s shirtless lover. In a contest to prove her worth as a warrior, apprentice Nawi must fight her way through a thicket of thorns, tearing her flesh, racing against other apprentices. Everything is a bit corny.

“The Woman King” acknowledges Dahomey’s role in slavery and how the kingdom sells its prisoners of war to slavers. The king’s urge to break out of slavery is a crucial part of the film’s story. Working with a choir and orchestra, Grammy Award-winning composer Terence Blanchard regularly delivers touches of deep emotion in the style of “The Lion King.” It’s quite powerful and evocative. But it also adds to the Disney-fying sense of this story.

“The Woman King” is a story that needs to be told. It’s groundbreaking in terms of stories of black African heroes coming out of the American film industry. It has great social significance. But as a work of art, “The Woman King” falters. The screenplay by Dana Stevens (“Fatherhood”), based on a story by actress Maria Bello, is often simplistic and superficial. In scenes reminiscent of the Amazons in the “Wonder Woman” movies, Davis, sporting a modified Mohawk, leads the Agojie into battle, where they let out a distinctive battle cry before leaping at their opponents. It is impressive, even moving. But at two hours and 15 minutes, “The Woman King” limps to the finish line.

“The Woman King” contains violence, suggested sexual violence and an almost naked man.

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