The Woman King review: ‘Real-life Black Panther’ brings fire

Queen It is not a simple story of good and evil. The film follows the Agojie, a fierce all-female army from the historic kingdom of Dahomey, West Africa (and inspiration for Black PantherDora Milaje’s), against the moral corruption of chattel slavery. However, Dahomey was not a pure victim. They were also involved in the slave trade – not as widely as the neighboring Oyo Empire, which terrorized the Dahomey settlements and sold their people to Portuguese slaves for decades. But Dahomey captured the enemies and sold them as slaves. Some in the kingdom oppose this practice for ethical reasons. Others simply want to get rich and don’t care how they do it.

This ambiguity makes Queen less nationalist exercises SS Rajamouli’s RRR, Mel Gibson’s Brave Heart, and many other films that turn real historical events, with all their messy contradictions and confusing nuances, into simple David-and-Goliath stories. Clearly, it’s still a version of Hollywood history, with all the gripping action, awe-inspiring sublimation, and soaring soundtrack choices the studio implies. But director Gina Prince-Bythewood (Old Guardian, Beyond the Lights) and screenwriter Dana Stevens complicates matters, mostly for the better.

Viola Davis plays Nanisca, the leader of the Agojie, who carries the weight of the kingdom on her muscular shoulders, along with some pretty nasty scars. As the film opens, the Agojies are considering how to strike back at their Oyo oppressors. And they have recently suffered losses in attacks against Oyo designed to free Dahomey’s captives towards a harbor auctioneer. Therefore, they are looking for new recruits.

Leader Agojie Nanisca (Viola Davis) and warrior Izogie (Lashana Lynch) look through a bunch of young warrior recruits in The Woman King

Photo: Sony Pictures

This is good news for Nawi (Soo Mbedu), a rebellious teenage girl from the capital. When Nawi’s father saw her off at the palace gates, telling the guard that he was offering his daughter as a gift to the king, he thought he was punishing her for refusing to accept an upcoming marriage. booked with a rich man who introduced himself by hitting her. It turns out that her father is actually saving her. Nawi’s fiery nature and stubborn determination make her a much better fit for Agojie than sex slavery and a life of forced farm labor.

The first half of the series focuses on Nawi starting to become Agojie, following her and her co-stars through a training camp-like course designed to transform them from undisciplined girls into shiny warriors. The guide only partially worked on Nawi, who was defiant even when it wasn’t in her favor. Her superiors, including Nanisca’s second-in-command, Amenza (Sheila Atim, have recently been seen as a doomed warrior in the Doctor Strange in Madness’ Multiverse), and their fierce lieutenant, Izogie (Lashana Lynch, Captain Marvel movie ‘Maria Rambeau), discipline her when they need to. At the same time, they seemed to enjoy this feisty new hire.

Because rebellion cannot be tolerated in well-organized Agojie, but spirit and passion are encouraged and respected. The rules surrounding the military abounded, including a royal decree that no ordinary citizen could look an Agojie in the eye. But sisterhood and pride are just as important to them as customs and etiquette. And behind the castle walls, even Nanisca was gentler than Nawi expected, with her tired eyes and serious expression.

John Boyega co-stars as King Ghezo of the Dahomey sovereign, and the film delves into politics and castle intrigue as Nanisca and the king’s favorite wife vie for influence over Ghezo. This rivalry is less compelling than the camaraderie between the Agojies, which becomes richer as the characters’ traumatic histories and epic fates are revealed. In the crowded, all-female world of the palace, relationships between the women flourished and flourished. And Prince-Bythewood infuses these relationships with an even more inspiring warmth than the scenes of powerful black women rushing into battle.

By comparison, the pausing romance between Nawi and a half-Dahomey, half-Portuguese adventurer named Malik (Jordan Bolger) seems perfunctory. This is a film where romance turns against comradeship – as a refreshing change of pace that gives African history and heroism its epic action movie treatment.

Prince-Bythewood shoots movies with an eye for dynamic action, with fight choreography split evenly between MMA-style grappling and swinging heavy, curved machetes. But the real star of these scenes is the sound design, which adds a heavy, heavy impact to the violence-free scene. (The film is rated PG-13, which limits the amount of blood that can be spilled onto the screen – a necessary sacrifice, perhaps, because of the film’s populist reach.) Gunpowder and horses play secondary roles in the films. fight scenes, befitting a movie whose focus is on people.

Queen is a blockbuster more humane than most that will hit screens during the summer months. It faces many of the problems typical of major studio movies – excessive CGI, an overly exaggerated plot – but it solves those problems as easily as Agojie overturns enemy soldiers. enemies on their backs and to the ground. This movie has fire in its stomach. But more importantly, it has a heart full of love: love life, love freedom, love black people and culture, and love fierce, complex, brave women.

Queen in theaters on September 16.

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