Viola Davis Is A Force Of Nature In The Woman King’s Epic, Original Story

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

Viola Davis is an unbelievable acting talent, who is only one Grammy away from becoming an EGOT. While she’s worked in various mediums and genres, she’s become a bonafide action star with her latest movie, which recently had its world premiere. And Viola Davis is a force of nature in The Woman King’s epic, original story.

The Woman King is directed by Love & Basketball filmmaker Gina Prince-Bythewood, and features an outstanding ensemble cast. But chief among them is Viola Davis, who plays protagonist General Nanisca as well as being a producer on the epic blockbuster. I had the privilege of seeing the world premiere of The Woman King at the Toronto International Film Festival, with the enthusiastic audience cheering for various satisfying moments throughout its 126-minute runtime. 

This new epic drama is set in 19th century Africa, and centers around the kingdom of Dahomey. Ruled by King Ghezo (played by John Boyega), the kingdom is in the midst of a conflict with another, larger one called the Oyo Empire. Viola Davis plays the general of the king’s all-female group of warriors called the Agojie, which is the King’s not-so secret weapon during that conflict. In addition to fighting, she’s also training a new generation of Agojie, including Thuso Mbedu as Naw. The story is something wholly original, which isn’t always the case with modern movie projects.

Given the movie’s concept, there are some truly epic battle sequences throughout The Woman King. The opening battle shows how deadly the Agojie are, who are fiercely strong and use teamwork and intense training to get the upper hand. Viola Davis is obviously no exception, with the 57 year-old actress doing a ton of fight choreography and weapon work. Davis looked absolutely ripped as Nanisca, truly selling how powerful her character and her own body are. The How to Get Away with Murder actress was quoted talking about this transformation, saying:

When I first went into it, I thought, ‘there is no way that I'm gonna make it through this. I was 56 years old. All the other girls are in their 30s. But after a couple of weeks, I felt badass, I felt strong.

And badass she is, as are the other actresses that make up the movie’s cast. Captain Marvel and No Time to Die’s Lashana Lynch is perhaps the biggest scene stealer in the ensemble, bringing heart, humor, and physicality to her role as Izogie. Another stand out is John Boyega who, while he doesn’t get into the action and fight scenes, completely sells each scene– cracking the premiere audience up with every small grunt or facial expression.

While Viola Davis obviously does a ton of physical work in The Woman King, she also (unsurprisingly) sells the hell out of her scene work. Her portrayal of Nanisca is layered, with the audience and other characters slowly earning their way into her backstory. Davis is one of the most celebrated actresses of our generation for a reason, and she helps to anchor the epic story in her emotionality. So while she might be a bonafide action star at this point, the Oscar winner never lets the work of the physical get in the way of telling the larger story. And I have to wonder if Davis will get more action roles as a result of this truly epic performance. 

The Woman King will arrive in theaters on September 16th. In the meantime, check out the 2022 movie release dates to plan your next movie experience. 

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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.