Charlie von Peterffy ‘24 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
The Woman King is an above-average culturally rooted film with stellar characters and tons of action. It may lack a lot of substance and, at points, sludge through some snoozy filler, but it succeeds in its character strength and a strong cast. Anything with Viola Davis is almost sure to be at least admirable or enjoyable. The film is about a group of female warriors in the 1800s led by General Nanisca (Viola Davis) whose job is to protect the African kingdom of Dahomey. Trained from a young age, these warriors are brutal, fierce, loyal, cunning, and sharply skilled to kill. Faced with a new threat to the kingdom, Nanisca trains a new generation of recruits in order to stop the kingdom from being conquered by colonialists and local invaders alike.
The story is decent. It does a fine job in terms of structure and general realism. However, it lacks sophisticated themes and complex ideas. In a narrative as dramatic as this one attempts to be, one would expect there to be more intricacies than meets the eye. Here, none of that exists. It is shallow, almost thin. The story is entertaining and breathes assuredly in its serious tone but lacks vital three-dimensional qualities, such as character focus. Because of that failure, the story underreaches its full potential, diluting the film’s ideas and impact. The film is also just plain slow. A big reason why the film’s issues are so apparent is that there is a lot of filler. These scenes pause the narrative, jumping between the character moments the film thrives on. The film would feel less monotonous if the filmmakers shaved about 20 minutes off.
Fortunately, the characters counteract the story’s hollow gestures of nuance. While simple, the characters go through emotional, heart-wrenching arcs. Not only do viewers see a group of warriors suffering, but questions of duty vs. personal well-being gnaw at our characters’ consciences. A few characters, such as King Ghezo (John Boyega), feel like odd amalgamations of different character flaws. However, these characters are not central to the story, so their random reactions are few and far between.
As for the cast, not a single member fails to fill their role. Aside from the apparent talents like Davis (Nanisca) and Boyega, new forces like Thuso Mbedu (Nawi) are difficult to criticize. Mbedu slips into the lead role easily, giving her character all the egotistic fragility the position demands. Seeing her aggravate Davis or banter with other characters is a satisfying experience. All in all, everyone, no matter their experience, gives their best.
The visuals are spectacular. The film dazzles on the big screen, from its experimental cinematography to its CGI use. It utilizes a few unique cinematographic techniques to twist viewers’ perspectives, making for fascinating shots. It is bold in these choices and has nothing to apologize for.
Overall, The Woman King is a noble experiment in filmmaking and pleases with its strong cast and light-fun story. It misses a lot in nuance and drive, but its impeccable conflicts and character journeys more than redeem it. I highly recommend this to anyone who enjoys Davis’s work or films with fresh perspectives in their messages and shots. You won’t be disappointed.