When the term “graphic novel” is tossed around, most immediately turn toward stories that capture grand adventures of heroes, like Superman, Batman, the Avengers, who display their superhuman strength or intellect while defeating similarly striking villains bent on world, or galactic, domination. However, graphic novels aren’t just home to the pantheon of Marvel and DC Comics vanguards but also serve as a means of telling longer, artistic stories where the worlds of artistry and words collide to transport readers through a journey of self-realization and actualization. Such is the case with Joe Kelly’s and J. M. Ken Niimura’s I Kill Giants, the latest graphic novel to receive the cinematic treatment. It’s a tale of bravery and cowardice, of joy and pain, and of love and hate. Under the direction of Anders Walter (Academy Award Winner Helium) and with a script adapted by Kelly, I Kill Giants oscillates between fantastical wonder and brutal reality, forming a capricious narrative that’s enjoyable, albeit emotionally light.
Unlike most teens in her small coastal New Jersey town, Barbara Thorson (True Detective’s Madison Wolfe) doesn’t spend her free time with friends playing games or doing homework because she’s on a mission that requires constant preparation and eternal vigilance. Madison is a giant-killer and it’s her sworn duty to protect her town from the monsters that swarm it from places unknown. However, when Barbara befriends new-to-town Sophia (Una’s Sydney Wade) and her diligence wavers, a threat unlike anything she’s combated emerges and it possesses the might to rend her asunder.
I Kill Giants is a compelling film for many reasons: it’s grounding in reality, the controlled perspective, and the depiction of the monsters. Like many comic films today – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Black Panther, and Deadpool 2 – there’s an insistence to ground the story in some measure of reality. As such, it’s important that the world around Barbara feels like it could hide deadly creatures on the fringes of her town. Whether on the beach, a thick forest, or an abandoned train yard, Barbara’s world possesses just enough isolation that the threats she perceives contain a measure of weight. It’s also in these isolated areas that Barbara seems the most calm, measured, and assertive. In contrast, at home, at school, or in any social situation, Barbara is immeasurably weaker. Left only with her quick wit and smart mouth, Barbara is presented as both desperate for connection with someone, yet heavily reluctant to keep anyone close. As such, Walter presents her world as visibly different from what others see. Barbara sees a colorful world of magic and monsters, whereas those around her only see a potentially deranged girl tilting at windmills. To aid in the separation of worldviews, Walter presents few moments when anyone other than Barbara is able to witness the destructive creatures instead of just the aftermath of her violent engagements. This is achieved through careful camerawork and measured scriptwork, without which I Kill Giants would be markedly less interesting. Though the giants themselves are rarely seen full-on, the creatures that herald the giants do make several appearances. One such creature, the Harbinger, is formed through the blending of practical and CGI effects, adding to the notion that these creatures of are of this world and distinctly separate, much like our heroine.
For all of its strengths, I Kill Giants doesn’t stick its landing. Unlike other films where the central character walks the line of reality – 2014’s Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) or 2016’s A Monster Calls – I Kill Giants doesn’t draw in audiences with its relative mystery. Yes, Madison Wolfe gives a nuanced performance as troubled Barbara and her supporting cast which includes Wade as desperate-for-friends Sophia, Imogen Poots (Green Room) as her distressed sister Karen, and Zoe Saldana (Avengers: Infinity War) as Birchwood Middle School’s therapist Mrs. Mollé all bring some balance to the chaotic nature of Barbara’s life, but, despite their genuine performances, they’re not enough to brandish the kind of emotional revelation that I Kill Giants builds toward. While the script is smart enough to establish Barbara’s strong, vibrant imagination as a coping mechanism for her self-imposed isolation from society, strong enough for her to create an entire lore for the beasts that menace her town, the resolution of I Kill Giants is presented in such a way that’s powerful for Barbara, yet less so for the audience. The film spends so much time delineating Barbara’s worlds that, when the truth of them is revealed, there should exist some form of resonance for its audience. Instead, it fails to land the emotionality of the conclusion.
I Kill Giants is a great salve for the bombast of summer cinema. Though it promises big action, I Kill Giants is a quiet, somber story of a teen whose violent fantasies provide her the control she lacks in reality. Wolfe, Wade, Poots, and Saldana each deliver compelling, honest performances, effectively pushing the narrative forward through reasonable action. Additionally, to the credit of Walter and Kelly, the fusion of realities never feels cheap or rough, but as a tangible manifestation of monsters. Nonetheless, despite however much audiences root for Barbara or believe in the world she’s struggling to protect, the structure of the script projects too much, placing the audience so far ahead of Barbara that there’s no chance for the conclusion to elicit the desired impact.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5.
Available for home release May 22 2018.
- The Making of I Kill Giants.
- Anatomy of a Scene.
- I Kill Giants Graphic Novel: Chapter 1.
- Photo Gallery.