The Woman King Review: Viola Davis Is A Bonafide Action Star In The Truly Epic Blockbuster

There's a new King of action.

Viola Davis in The Woman King
(Image: © Sony Pictures)

There’s nothing like seeing an epic, large-scale movie in theaters, with the size of the screen and sound helping to immerse audiences in its story. This is especially true when there’s some epic action involved, like in Russell Crowe’s Gladiator. This tradition of filmmaking has been continued recently with Gina Prince-Bythewood’s The Woman King, which stars the unbelievable Viola Davis, and the acclaimed actress shines on this truly epic blockbuster's action front.

As previously mentioned, The Woman King is directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, who is known for projects like Love & Basketball and The Old Guard. The latter project was full of thrilling action, and she’s once again flexing those muscles in The Woman King. Because despite its new setting, the project is definitely an action/war movie. 

The Woman King is set back in the 1820s and follows the Dahomey Kingdom in Africa. The young King Ghezo (John Boyega) is facing conflict with another much larger kingdom called the Oyo Empire. With high stakes that include the slave trade, Ghezo has one big advantage: an elite army of all-female warriors known as the Agojie. Viola Davis plays protagonist General Nanisca, who leads the army and trains future generations of fighters. This includes newcomer Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), who is the secondary protagonist and the audience’s entry into this emotional and bloody world. 

The Woman King’s Action Is Truly Brutal

Since we are following war in the 1820s, obviously there are a number of battle sequences throughout The Woman King’s 135-minute runtime. And these fights are truly brutal, with the entire cast getting a chance to shine and kill off their enemies with both grace and power. This includes Viola Davis herself, who has become a bonafide action star in the process.

The action of The Woman King is expertly choreographed, with Agojie in particular getting a variety of fighting styles and weapons to contend with. Some use swords, while others use giant spears when dispatching enemies from the Oyo Empire. One actor who gets to truly shine in these various battles is Captain Marvel and No Time to Die star Lashanna Lynch, who plays Izogie. She’s both the primary comic relief of the movie and has the most brutal kill of the entire movie. It’s no wonder she’s becoming such an action icon. 

Indeed, the action sequences are hugely important to buoying the runtime of The Woman King. We get the first battle almost immediately, which helps to set the scene and show how deadly the Agojie are when working together. It’s only as the movie goes on that we meet each individual warrior and understand how much work and preparation goes into becoming one of these soldiers. This includes fighting and not even being gazed at directly by those in the village. Although given just how deadly we see them, I’d probably look away too.

 The Woman King is an immersive, epic story

While each action scene from The Woman King offers a shot of adrenaline throughout the movie’s runtime, there is obviously a deeper story being told by Gina Prince-Bythewood and company. It’s one that includes politics and wartime strategy, as well as interpersonal dynamics. As such, there are a number of ways one can be moved by its contents. The screenplay is written by Dana Stevens (Fatherhood) based on a story she wrote with Maria Bello

All of these storylines are greatly serviced by The Woman King’s production and design elements. The sets and cinematography bring us to 1820s Africa, and a ton of credit deserves to go to production designer Akin McKenzie for the ways he helped to fully create the world of the movie and immerse the audience. The same can also be said for costume designer Gersha Phillips, who outfits various tribes and their classes, as well as settlers involved in the slave trade. 

While some of the marketing for The Woman King emphasizes that it’s based on real history, the fact that the movie is so wholly original is perhaps its strongest suit. There’s simply never been a movie like this in theaters, and the care taken with its contents make each scene, battle and expression into a revelation.

Viola Davis Is Acting Royalty, As Always

Of course, it’s impossible to speak about The Woman King without talking about the force of nature that is Viola Davis. The Oscar, Tony and Emmy Award-winning actress is known for bringing a fierce emotionality to her performances, and that was certainly the case as General Nanisca. The hardened general enters the movie as a cold killing machine, but throughout its runtime, we get more and more information about her dark backstory. As this occurs, the audience eventually earns the moments where Davis offers vulnerability.

As previously mentioned, Viola Davis was also required to do a ton of extremely physical work throughout The Woman King. As the leader of the Agojie, she has the most action sequences out of anyone in the film. This includes epic set pieces, as well as one on one duels with male antagonists. And while she was left out of the fights in movies like The Suicide Squad, Davis is absolutely badass and shows that she’s an action star in her own right. 

On top of leading the cast as General Nanisca, Viola Davis is also a significant behind-the-scenes contributor to The Woman King. Namely, she’s one of the lead producers, and her involvement no doubt helped to get this ambitious project off the ground. With an outstanding cast of characters and a truly epic sale, The Woman King is glorious and powerful. Let’s hope more innovative stories like this are brought to theaters, even if there were moments where the movie slowed.

Corey Chichizola
Movies Editor

Corey was born and raised in New Jersey. Graduated with degrees theater and literature from Ramapo College of New Jersey. After working in administrative theater for a year in New York, he started as the Weekend Editor at CinemaBlend. He's since been able to work himself up to reviews, phoners, and press junkets-- and is now able to appear on camera with some of his favorite actors... just not as he would have predicted as a kid. He's particularly proud of covering horror franchises like Scream and Halloween, as well as movie musicals like West Side Story. Favorite interviews include Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee, Jamie Lee Curtis, and more.