The Woman King (2022)

Drama/ Action/ History
Rated 15
Spoiler Free

Ah Black Panther, the most cynical film series ever. Blaxsploitation with budget. I went to see the recent one, Wankhands Forever, and I hated it so much I couldn’t review it because thinking about the hours I wasted on it made me so angry I was shattering keys on my keyboard typing up my hate. Other people seem to love the Black Panther films and that’s great for them. And Marvel Studios.

The Woman King compares itself (via a critic’s quote) to Gladiator. This is a move used a lot in marketing and so far has never worked out in my opinion- see The Northman for one example. This film is immediately different to Gladiator because although it also opens with a brutal battle, there are plenty of squelchy sound effects but no real bloodshed to talk of. Initially I was annoyed, I always want bloodshed, but The Woman King’s violence is not brutal realism, it is stylised and actually pretty eye-catching and fun in its very own way. 

I warmed to the story and characters pretty fast, it’s hard not to get caught up in and care for Nawi (Thuso Mbedu) and the other young recruits training under Nanisca (Viola Davis) to be part of the Agojie. The Agojie are an all female warrior unit, and The Woman King is “inspired” by real events from Africa in the 1800’s. The army’s training is basically Hogwarts for hard as fuck African lady soldiers. That’s actually a more unique sell than “oh it’s a bit like Gladiator”.

Imagine if an admin mix up sent Harry Potter to Agojie Academy instead of Hogwarts. “Hello chaps, who’s up for a jolly old spot of quidditch?”. I have no idea how Harry Potter talks, but given colonialism and the slave trade I reckon there’d definitely be bloodshed if he rocked up. I’d buy that for a dollar. Colonialism and the slave trade are a heavy part of the conflict in The Woman King, unsurprisingly.

Viola Davies and Thuso Mbedu are excellent and while John Boyega’s African accent was the subject of some ridicule from the (African) ladies in my office, he does have a presence which I think will see him a big league thespian for a while given he picks the right roles. Once I became pretty ensconced in its story, I chilled out about the violence, it actually doesn’t need gore. The action is superb; closer to martial arts with its choreography and physical skill than broad sword brutality or boom boom bullet hits and bombs. 

What I will pick on a little, is that while The Woman King entertains and tells a story which feels epic, I’m not alone in pointing out that films of the Gladiator ilk, bombastic, expansive stories are few and far between these days and certainly those of that quality are. The Woman King is a lot of fun, but it’s not a classic. Let’s finish on a happy: fuck Wankhands Forever, this is enjoyable and does all the things those film do except have spaceships.

Bedsit it?

The Woman King is exciting, not contrived and doesn’t feel like it’s trying to do anything other than tell its story. It really grew on me, and I was never worried it wouldn’t entertain me, but I worry that the paucity of decent films in the "Gladiator" arena is what gets The Woman King 8/10.


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