I Kill Giants faithfully adapts the graphic novel for a striking coming-of-age movie that blends magical realism with heartbreaking drama.
Created by writer Joe Kelly and artist J.M. Ken Niimura, I Kill Giants was first launched as a limited comic book series from Image Comics starting in 2008, though it was compiled into a graphic novel and released in 2009. After inspiring a devoted fan following of the comic, a big screen adaptation of I Kill Giants was announced in 2015 with Kelly penning the script for the live-action take on his source material. Directed by Academy Award winner Anders Walter, I Kill Giants debuted at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival late last year and is now making its way to theaters. I Kill Giants faithfully adapts the graphic novel for a striking coming-of-age movie that blends magical realism with heartbreaking drama.
I Kill Giants tells the story of young Barbara Thorson (Madison Wolfe), an outsider at her school who spends most of her time focused on the task of killing giants that threaten her small town. Barbara has established an elaborate network of protection wards around the town that she must vigilantly check on lest they be compromised, in addition to keeping an eye out for signs of a giant’s arrival. Her focus on giants and little else – with the exception of Dungeons and Dragons and some old tapes of baseball games – leaves Barbara with no time for her older sister Karen (Imogen Poots) or to deal with what’s going on with her family.
That begins to change when Barbara becomes friends with a new girl in town, Sophia (Sydney Wade), to whom Barbara explains the history and dangers of giants. Sophia begins to wade into the giant killing business alongside Barbara, even as a bully at school named Taylor (Rory Jackson) threatens both girls. Additionally, school psychologist Mrs. Mollé (Zoe Saldana) attempts to understand Barbara, though their relationship is strained at best. As a particularly nasty giant threatens the town, Barbara is forced to confront what she’s truly afraid of – and with her legendary hammer Kovaleski on the fritz, it remains to be seen if Barbara is prepared to face the giant.
Like A Monster Calls in 2017, I Kill Giants spins a fantastical tale around its young protagonist as an entry point for a much more grounded and dramatic story. Both feature a child lead who must face the concept of death at a young age, and deals with such a scary concept through massive magical beings – though, it should be mentioned the I Kill Giants graphic novel was released prior to Patrick Ness’ A Monster Calls novel. Due to the script for I Kill Giants being penned by Kelly, the same writer who crafted the graphic novel on which the film is based, the movie bears a great deal of resemblance to its source material. However, I Kill Giants never feels too beholden to its source material, allowing for Walter to translate the heart of the story and the unique character of Barbara to a different medium.
In terms of its themes, I Kill Giants tackles the concept of death with boldness, depicting Barbara as an incredibly complex young person with conflicting moments of fascination and avoidance of death. The result is a difficult, flawed and wholly human protagonist, carried well by Wolfe. With Barbara at the center of I Kill Giants, Wolfe is tasked with portraying a character that has a great deal of depth below an at-times unlikable outward demeanor. However, Wolfe excels in bringing Barbara to life, and plays effectively against the more fantastic aspects of the story. The combination of magical realism in the giants and Barbara’s protection wards with the dramatic elements of her daily life offer a compelling look at how someone does – or, as the case may be, does not – deal with a concept as difficult as death.
The supporting characters of I Kill Giants work to build out the world of Barbara – particularly Wade’s Sophia, Saldana’s Mrs. Mollé, and Poots’ Karen. Viewers are given very little insight into their lives beyond their relationships with Barbara, though each character does have moments of their own. But that limited insight into these supporting characters is a choice to effectively position the viewer as seeing the world through Barbara’s view – and her view is restricted by her focus on giants and her avoidance of certain other aspects of her life. So, while I Kill Giants doesn’t offer its supporting stars much to work with beyond their characters’ relationships to Barbara – which is somewhat of a missed opportunity in the case of Saldana and Poots – they work well with Wolfe and add a consciously unexplored depth to the story.
Though I Kill Giants is ultimately an uplifting story about a young protagonist dealing with death and grief, the film is perhaps not best suited to very young viewers. One of the strengths of I Kill Giants is its balance of straightforwardness and avoidance of its main themes – however, its straightforwardness is portrayed at times with scary or gruesome visuals (a particular scene in which Barbara and Sophia stumble upon roadkill comes to mind). These moments, along with the complexity of the film’s portrayal of death, prove to make I Kill Giants a more mature film than its young protagonist suggests. But with the Harry Potter franchise’s Chris Columbus behind the film as a producer and a magical score from composer Laurent Perez Del Mar, I Kill Giants does effectively capture the childlike wonder and imagination of its protagonist. So, while I Kill Giants may not be appropriate for young viewers, it’s certainly well suited for viewers who are young at heart.
All in all, I Kill Giants tells a wonderfully nuanced story of a young person being forced to face the concept of death, with a great deal of fantastical elements as an entry point to the dramatic storyline. For fans of Kelly and Niimura’s graphic novel, the film adaptation offers a new way to experience the story of Barbara Thorsen, but I Kill Giants can certainly be appreciated by those who have not yet read the source material. Its larger than life visuals contrast well with the grounded setting of Barbara’s hometown, and makes I Kill Giants perfect for a theatrical viewing. Though I Kill Giants isn’t done any favors by comparisons to A Monster Calls – a film that arguably tackles grief, at least, more head-on and adeptly – Walter and Kelly’s adaptation offers a compelling coming-of-age tale that deals with death.
I Kill Giants is now playing in select U.S. theaters and is available on demand/digital HD. It is 106 minutes and is not rated.
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