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Gina Prince-Bythewood
Viola Davis, Thuso Mbedu, Lashana Lynch
Writing Credits:
Dana Stevens

In West Africa circa 1823, General Nanisca leads an all-female army of warriors.

Box Office:
$50 million.
Opening Weekend
$19,051,442 on 3765 screens.
Domestic Gross

Rated PG-13.

Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
English Audio Descriptive Service
Portuguese DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish DTS-HD MA 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

135 min.
Price: $34.99
Release Date: 12/13/2022

• Audio Commentary with Director Gina Prince-Bythewood and Editor Terilyn A. Shropshire
• “A Caterpillar’s Destruction” Featurette
• “Woman/Warrior” Featurette
• “Storytellers” Featurette
• “Representation Matters” Featurette
• “Auditions” Featurette
• Previews


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The Woman King [Blu-Ray] (2022)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (December 12, 2022)

Too often, movies about African history have come from a white POV. For a different focus, we go to 2022’s The Woman King.

Set in the West African kingdom of Dahomey circa 1823, General Nanisca (Viola Davis) commands an army of female warriors called the Agojie under the command of King Ghezo (John Boyega). Into these ranks steps Nawi (Thuso Mbedu), a young woman whose father gave her to the king because he felt she proved insufficiently obedient and subservient.

Under the tutelage of veteran soldier Izogie (Lashana Lynch) and others, Nawi quickly proves her skills. This puts her at the forefront of combat with a variety of parties that include threats from both Africa and elsewhere.

At the very least, I admire the focus and goals of King. As implied at the start, most movies that concern African affairs do so from a non-African perspective, and that “whitewashing” grew tedious years ago.

This means I find the basic concept of King to offer appeal, especially given the movie’s basis in fact. While it takes the inevitable liberties, King does reflect history, so this allows it to open viewers to elements of the past about which most never heard anything.

Unfortunately, as a film, King doesn’t consistently connect. Although it occasionally hits the right notes, it lacks a clear throughline and offers a surprisingly scattered story.

Part of the problem comes from the movie’s inability to pick a true protagonist. Given its title, we expect an emphasis on General Nanisca, as we assume (correctly) she will develop into the “woman king”.

And Nanisca does receive plenty of screentime, but she can feel oddly superfluous at times, largely because King spends a lot of time with Nawi as well. Indeed, Nawi acts more as the movie’s true protagonist.

Nawi goes on the much more traditional “hero’s journey” here, and the film ultimately feels much more about her path than Nanisca’s. However, the movie devotes so much running time to Nanisca that neither really takes over as the full lead.

Which might not become too much of a problem if King managed greater coherence as it goes. Unfortunately, the narrative can feel disjointed and scattered as it bites off an awful lot of threads across its length.

Some of these it handles well, and the movie’s action sequences occasionally bring it to life. These manage to offer some real excitement and drama.

However, the character and story beats tend to ramble and they too often fall into unfortunate soap opera territory. I won’t discuss specifics in that domain, but I will note that the movie comes with a “big reveal” that seems more likely to inspire eye rolls than anything else.

The actors do well in their roles. Davis brings her usual understated power to Nanisca, while Mbedu’s young warrior carries her journey in charismatic fashion. Lynch also offers depth to a somewhat underwritten and cliché part.

All of this means King brings some real strengths, but its weaknesses become a burden. The basic narrative just fails to coalesce in the manner needed to make this a truly winning film.

The Disc Grades: Picture B+/ Audio B+/ Bonus B-

The Woman King appears in an aspect ratio of 2.40:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Expect a pretty solid presentation.

Sharpness fared well. Only minor softness materialized, so this became a tight, well-defined image most of the time.

No issues with jagged edges or moiré effects popped up, and I saw no signs of edge haloes or print flaws either.

Even with its period setting, King opted for a predictable teal/blue and amber/orange palette, with an emphasis on the latter. While those choices felt trite, the Blu-ray reproduced them as intended.

Blacks looked deep and rich and low-light elements boasted good clarity. All of this created a satisfying image.

With the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack, I found a fairly engaging mix. The movie gave us a mix of character elements and action.

The former brought a nice sense of environment. The more dynamic sequences added zest to the proceedings, as the multiple battles used the spectrum in a vivid manner.

Audio quality worked nicely. Speech seemed natural and concise, while music was warm and full.

Effects showed fine clarity and impact, with deep low-end as appropriate. I felt this became a more than acceptable soundtrack.

As we move to extras, we launch with an audio commentary from director Gina Prince-Bythwood and editor Terilyn A. Shropshire. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific look at story, characters and editing, history and research, cast and performances, sets, locations and visual choices, photography, music, stunts and action, and related topics.

At times, we get a little too much narration and a little too much happy talk. Nonetheless, the commentary usually stays on task and delivers a pretty solid view of the film.

A few featurettes follow, and A Caterpillar’s Destruction runs nine minutes, 48 seconds. It offers notes from Prince-Bythewood, producer Julius Tennon and and actors Viola Davis, Sheila Atim, Lashana Lynch, Thuso Mbedu, John Boyega and Adrienne Warren.

We get info about the movie’s roots and development as well as Davis’s casting, training and performance. Some decent details emerge, but most of “Destruction” just praises Davis.

Woman/Warrior goes for 11 minutes, 40 seconds and brings comments from Lynch, Prince-Bythewood, Davis, Atim, Mbedu, Warren, producer Cathy Schulman, screenwriter Dana Stevens, cast trainer and nutritionist Gabriela McClain, stunt coordinator Daniel Hernandez, and actor Masaki Baduza.

“Warrior” discusses cast, characters and performances along with stunts and training. We get another mix of insights and happy talk.

Next comes Storytellers, a 10-minute, 19-second reel that features Davis, Prince-Bythewood, Shropshire, Mbedu, Atim, Baduza, Lynch, Warren, Boyega, production designer Akin McKenzie, hair department head Louisa V. Anthony, hair stylist Jamika Wilson, makeup designer Babalwa Mtshiselwa, choreographer Zoyi Lindiwe Muendane and props Kerry von Lillienfeld.

This piece looks at the director’s work on the shoot, sets and locations, costumes, makeup and hair, weapons, dance and historical dimensions. Expect another combination of worthwhile notes and puffy praise.

Representation Matters goes for nine minutes, 59 seconds and involves Prince-Bythewood, Lynch, Davis, Mbedu, Stevens, McKenzie, and Warren.

“Matters” examines the history behind the film and its desire to focus on Black stories. While I agree with the message involved, “Matters” becomes largely self-congratulatory.

Finally, Auditions spans six minutes, 34 seconds and lets us see tryouts for Thuso Mbedu. It offers a fun addition to the set.

The disc opens with ads for Bullet Train, The Invitation, and A Journal For Jordan. No trailer for King appears here.

As a look at a slice of history unfamiliar to most Americans, The Woman King comes with some real positives, and a fine cast gives it power. Unfortunately, the execution can lack on the story end, as the narrative lacks focus and can feel muddled. The Blu-ray comes with very good picture and audio plus an inconsistent set of supplements. Though it occasionally sputters to life, Woman King doesn’t fully connect.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2 Stars Number of Votes: 1
0 3:
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