I am yet to see it but Movie critic Wilfred Okiche says it is a Hot Mess – it was nothing to write home about.
Launcelot Odua Imasuen’s Invasion 1897, a history lesson and would be blockbuster has been talk of movie circles for years now. After his last major epic, Adesuwa failed to find its target audience due to squabbles with the financiers, Imasuen rebounded with 2014’s Invasion 1897, a long heralded chronicle of events leading to the fall of Oba Ovonramwen of the ancient Benin kingdom.
Hailed as sub-Saharan Africa’s last great monarch, the all-powerful
Oba Ovonramwen was the remaining obstacle between the British powers and
total domination of the African continent. A poorly set up revelatory
scene featuring white actors who cannot act forms the basis for the now
famous Benin expedition and Imasuen’s film cannot quite recover from
As a prelude to the events of 1987, there is a very modern plot line
set in the United Kingdom where a misguided African history student
attempts to steal artefacts from a secure museum. He is apprehended and
put on trial. In his defence, he begins a long winded narrative that
leads into the Oba Ovonramwen saga. This brief introduction is not
particularly well made as overwrought performances compete with terrible
writing and poorly trained actors for audience attention.
Things brighten up in the clustered palaces and wild scenery of the
Benin Empire but only cosmetically. Imasuen and his writer Ossa Earliece
do not quite understand the magnitude of story they are telling and for
the film’s entire running time, they forget to realise they are
shooting for the big screen and not for stage. The story is there all
right, but the screenplay is full of itself and has little to do with
presenting a coherent narrative that will grip audience interest.
Instead of submitting a powerful character profile of this historical
figure- powerful beyond the natural, yet humbled by British brutish
force and cunning- they present a cartoonish tale of big speeches,
dialect advertising and funny acting. Oba Ovonramwen- in Imasuen’s
hands, and as played by Mike Omoregbe-, becomes an emotionally unstable
fellow, sheltered from the realities on ground and completely incapable
of evoking even the barest of sympathies, not to talk of awe.
There is nothing to relate to here as the Oba appears demented, and
powerless, engaging in manic fits of rage where he huffs and puffs and
then effects no meaningful change.
Which is not to say that the actors do not give it a go. Omoregbe’s
laughably kitsch performance while not totally unsalvageable is more
suitable for the stage. A good portion of the film consists of
Omoregbe’s Oba shouting out orders and making a big show of himself that
there is a wilful neglect of important relationships with his family
and cabinet members which could have been translated into an engaging,
thrilling endeavour. What makes this man great, what characters make him
endure long enough to become subject of a biopic? What are his flaws?
The film doesn’t bother itself with such considerations.
Instead we are stuck with layers and layers of mediocre dialogue,
battle scenes that are at best, amateurish and an experience that feels
like a history class gone wrong. Even a potent documentary should
stimulate more interest than the finished draft of Invasion 1897.
Invasion 1897 shifts back to events of the present, just when
memories of the first 15 minutes have succeeded in fading away and wraps
up in that crowd pleasing, self-involved manner that only Nollywood
films can quite manage.
Forget the hype, forget the press releases of record showings and sold out tickets, Invasion 1897 is one of the coldest tickets in town and no amount of posturing can save it from itself.