Viola Davis thrills in an epic action drama: NPR

Naniska (Viola Davis) wields a sword and hacks her way through the many men who come her way. female king.

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Naniska (Viola Davis) wields a sword and hacks her way through the many men who come her way. female king.

ilz kitshoff/ctmg

One of the happiest stories of Hollywood’s comeback in recent years is the return of director Gina Prince-Bythewood old guard and now lady king, It was a long wait for many of us who liked his earlier films love and basketball And beyond the light, As Prince-Bythewood has stated in interviews, his focus on female characters, especially black female characters, had made it difficult for years for his projects to get off the ground. Luckily, the industry is changing, and it has finally come to recognize her talent.

his latest film, lady king, Her most ambitious project to date is an old-fashioned action-drama, drawn from true events, about female warriors in 19th-century West Africa. The film started with the actor maria bello, who produced it and co-wrote the story with the film’s screenwriter Dana Stevens. It opened in 1823 in the state of Dahomey, now located in Benin. For many centuries, this kingdom was guarded by an army of female fighters called Agozi.

In the film, Egoji is led by the powerful General Naniska, played by Galvanizing. Viola Davis, She is not the ruler of this kingdom – she will be the king, played by John Boyega — but judging by the title of the film, you suspect it’s only a matter of time. The Agoji warriors are fighting male soldiers from the Oyo Kingdom, who have been attacking Dahomey villages. To build up his army, Naniska brings in a new batch of female recruits, one of them a flamboyant teenager named Navi, played by last year’s terrifying South African star Thuso Mbedu. underground Railroad,

Much of the script focuses on the growing bond – and rising tension – between Naniska and Navi. As Agoji’s leader, Naniska insists that all of her warriors follow a strict code that includes lifelong celibacy. Navi pursues that restriction, and her free-mindedness often clashes with Agozi’s values ​​of discipline and self-sacrifice. But by the end, Navi imbibes those values ​​and becomes a courageous fighter, honing his skills through several exciting sequences of training and competition.

lady king The re-creation of Dahomey Villages was shot on location in South Africa, and the re-creation of Dahomey Villages is so impressive – the costumes, designed by Gersha Phillips, are particularly gorgeous – that it’s about letting you clear out some of the mess of storytelling. . To its credit, the script addresses some of the historical complexities of the situation, including the fact that Dahomey became a prosperous state by participating in the trans-Atlantic slave trade – a practice that Naniska seeks to end. He also has a personal score to settle with the Oyo Warriors, and lady king The mix of political intrigue and emotional drama is sometimes a little unsettling. A romantic subplot involving Navi and a hunky European explorer feels particularly tacky-on.

Naniska may not be the most complex character played by Davis, but taking her to her first major action showcase is thrilling as she wears battle gear, wields a sword and hacks her way through the many men who come her way. Is. And she’s not alone: ​​My favorite performance in the film comes from Lashana Lynch as Izogi, a top warrior who takes young Navi under her wing. You must have seen Lynch equating Daniel Craig with James Bond no time to dieAnd here she manages to be funny, heartwarming and furious.

Prince-Bythewood conceived lady king as in the grand scale tradition of epics Brave And the Gladiator, this time with the women leading the charge. While the action doesn’t rise to the same visceral intensity as those movies, it does make for an entertaining and sometimes exhilarating history lesson. I left the theater wondering how an old civilization recognized the power of women—and how long it took the Hollywood empire to do so.

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