‘The Woman King’ Movie Review: Viola Davis Fights Through Crowd-Pleasing Action Epic

The Woman King is an exciting Hollywood action epic that doesn’t skimp out on the drama. Screenwriter Dana Stevens successfully crafts an ensemble of characters that are impossible not to care for. Meanwhile, director Gina Prince-Bythewood unites the ensemble with a collection of intense action sequences. The film falls victim to a few major Hollywood tropes, but it remains a thrilling piece of action storytelling nonetheless.

'The Woman King' 3.5 star graphic

‘The Woman King’ follows a group of skilled female warriors

'The Woman King' Viola Davis as Nanisca looking serious wearing warrior clothes. Her warrior group stands behind her.
Viola Davis as Nanisca | Ilze Kitshoff/Sony Pictures Entertainment

Set in 1823, Nanisca (Viola Davis) is the leader of a group of all-female warriors. They seek to protect the African kingdom of Dahomey from external dangers. However, they will need to use every ounce of their training and skills to face a new threat that could destroy their entire way of life. As a result, they face death or a terrifying life in the slave trade.

Nanisca works to train a new generation of recruits to fight against the foreign enemy on the horizon. Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) has her own hardships, but she wants nothing more than to be a warrior. She works hard to prove herself to Nanisca and to herself.

Director Gina Prince-Bythewood weaves action and drama

King Ghezo (John Boyega) is the head of the kingdom, but Nanisca holds the highest role on the battlefield. The Woman King is very much about politics when these warriors aren’t fighting for their way of life. Nanisca has her own vision for ensuring the strength of the kingdom, but not everybody agrees. As a result, she must wrestle with the words of the king and her own moral compass.

Nawi faces off against her own politics as she learns the way of the warrior. She discovers the double standards that come with being a female warrior as opposed to a male one. Romance and child-bearing are forbidden, but male warriors are able to have a wife and children. Nanisca and Nawi both encounter politics that inhibit their desires for freedom and their ideas of success, but they prove to tackle them in differing fashions.

The Woman King chronicles the journey of a young woman who discovers a family through hardship. These warriors must follow orders, but they also work as a unit and develop close bonds over the course of their promise to their kingdom. However, part of that process is truly understanding what pain is and coping with it on physical and emotional levels. Part of this exchange is agreeing to let go of love, as they view it as giving one’s power away.

The terrors of the slave trade constantly loom around every corner in The Woman King. Nanisca encounters folks whose families have been ripped apart as a result of it. Each warrior carries their trauma along with them. However, Stevens’ screenplay is all about a group of skillful fighters facing trauma and refusing to allow it to silence their voices. They will be heard.

‘The Woman King’ is thrilling studio entertainment

'The Woman King' Viola Davis as Nanisca and John Boyega as King Ghezo. They sit under a shade covering, looking ahead.
L-R: Viola Davis as Nanisca and John Boyega as King Ghezo | Ilze Kitshoff/Sony Pictures Entertainment

The Woman King is the type of action film that never neglects character creation through performance. Davis delivers a rousing showing as Nanisca, exhibiting strength and commanding attention. However, she also captures another form of power in her incredible vulnerability that allows the audience to engage with the character on a deeper level. However, Mbedu is an absolute scene-stealer as Nawi. She’s much newer to the acting craft than Davis, yet she matches the Oscar-winner’s stunning performance.

Nanisca explains to Nawi that fighting is based on skill, not magic. Nevertheless, the fight choreography boosts the film’s scale, constantly increasing the intensity. However, the severe lack of blood in these sequences is off-putting. The sound effects attempt to compensate for this with plenty of brutal slashes and stabs. However, this action epic is almost bloodless.

The Woman King displays surprising vulnerability, especially in its exploration of its darkest themes. Nevertheless, it’s a Hollywood film that remains highly accessible. Its PG-13 rating and an undercooked romance hold the film back, but this is the type of entertaining action worth the price of admission. The Woman King is a winning combination of drama and thrilling action.

The Woman King charges into theaters on Sept. 16.

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