The Woman King

The Woman King ★★★★

The Woman King is the kind of blockbuster that provides audiences with a strong mixture between popcorn entertainment and thought-provoking storytelling while also being impressive in terms of its craft and performances, even if there are some minor aspects of its screenplay and story that prevented it from being perfect.

Speaking of the screenplay (from Maria Bello and Dana Stevens), i will start things off by addressing the stronger aspects of it. As mentioned before, this is a film in which it contains a perfect mix between spectacular action scenes and a hard-hitting, inspirational story. The movie contains a lot to explore from a thematic standpoint, particularly how it explores the consequences of war and rising above evil. Every single scene is connected to said themes and make for multiple instances of compelling drama. Plus, the movie contains an intriguing dynamic between the characters of Nanisca (played by Viola Davis) and Nawi (played by Thuso Mbedu). Every time the movie cuts to these two characters as a whole (regardless if they’re separated or together), i found myself glued to the screen because of how compelling their characters were due to how they were given great internal conflicts that you want to see them overcome, thus making you root for them throughout the whole movie. This makes for a movie that keeps you (mostly) invested in the story and characters while also making you admire the action whenever it is utilized.

Then you have the directing from Gina Prince-Bythewood, which i did find to be pretty good work overall. She has a way with bringing the screenplay to life through the amount of care she has in making sure that every single scene in the story matters in the long run. You can feel said care in the way she controls the tone of the film along with making sure every scene provides the proper amount of character development and satisfying storytelling to match the interesting themes the story explores. Also, to match with her strengths as a storyteller (should also note that her sense of world building is strong as well through the way she uses the great visuals of the films), she also knows how to direct action scenes very well. Through the usage of tight editing and precise camerawork, the action scenes are comprehensible and stunning to look at at the same time. Through these choices as a director, Bythewood uses her bright vision in order to bring the movie to life in a robust manner. 

One other aspect of the film i was impressed by were the performances, which is also due in part to how excellent the casting was for this movie. The MVP of the entire movie, as with almost every one she is in, would easily have to be Viola Davis as Nanisca. She brings the perfect mixture of stellar screen presence, nuance, and ferocity to her character while also managing to bring a captivating sense of emotional vulnerability to said character as well. All of these elements in the performance make for a compelling portrayal of this character. There is also Thuso Mbedu as Nawi, who also very much impressed me in her portrayal of a character who is eager to become more than what she is. One performance that surprised me would have to be Lashana Lynch as Izogie, who i’d say made a huge impression on me despite the little amount of screen time she had. Same could also be said about the performances from Sheila Atim as Amenza & John Boyega as King Ghezo. 

Then you have the technical elements of the film, which i also found to be imposing the whole way through. The cinematography by Polly Morgan does a solid job in capturing the grand scope/scale of the film immensely through the usage of excellent shot compositions while also making the movie a neat visual treat through the great color scheme and lighting. Also, as mentioned before, the camerawork, especially during the action scenes is excellent work the whole way that adds to the strong visual presentation of the movie. The editing by Terilyn A. Shropshire is also great work that brings a natural, consistent flow to the movie’s pacing while also making the action scenes digestible to look at. There is also the production values, which were immaculate the whole way through. The sets, costumes, makeup, and effects all looked good and added to the movie’s intricate world building through making said sets and costumes stand out as much as possible. Then you have the musical score by Terence Blanchard, which i consider to be one of the better musical scores he has ever put out. It adds the right amount of significance to every scene from a story perspective, particularly adding the right amount of weight to the action scenes. Then there is the sound design, which is not only crisp throughout the runtime, but also adds layers of brutality to the aforementioned action scenes. 

Even though there is a huge amount to praise about with this movie, there was some minor issues i had that held it back from being a masterpiece. The first of which being that i did find the screenplay and story to be a bit formulaic during the first half more-so than the second half. While this aspect of the film thankfully does get better once said second half rolls around, i did find there to be a couple of tired tropes here and there during that first half that were not doing much for me. I would also have to say that i was not too fond of the villains of the movie. They were not the worst villains in a movie or anything like that, but they came off as one-dimensional in my eyes and i do wish that the movie had taken more time to make them both stand out as well as come off as a legitimate threat to our main characters. 

Despite these minor issues, however, i still found The Woman King to be a really good film that does succeed at what it is trying to accomplish: providing the right amount of popcorn entertainment and strong storytelling that makes the movie compelling and fun to watch while also being a blockbuster that has something to say and does a brilliant job at delivering its message. Back it up with excellent craft and performances and you have one of the better blockbusters that 2022 has to offer.

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