2 out of 5
Directed by: Anders Walter
I Kill Giants, the comic, came out alongside two other Joe Kelly-helmed creator-owned comics exactly at a point when I was in love with his writing, snatching up Deadpool back issues and trying to work my way through Steampunk.
I Kill Giants, the comic, was also the book that kinda made me fall out of love with Joe Kelly. While I ended up enjoying the other two linked projects, there were delays on both; I think I Kill Giants came out mostly on time, but it was the one to keep an eye on: it was obvious that Joe was going for something a bit deeper and heavier with it, and J. M. Ken Niimura’s art style and the coloring scheme nudged it into visual uniqueness as well, and it was getting press to match that. But I felt a disconnect: the ‘deeper and heavier’ness felt more heavy-handed than anything, and I was confused what the intention was: if the book was trying to present its main conceit with a “twist,” or if it was intended to be obvious and be more of a character study, in which case I wasn’t clear what was being studied that wasn’t apparent from the first few issues…
I didn’t vibe with the book. At all. And with the other books’ delays, I had time to go back and reread my growing Joe collection, and my ‘I Kill Giants’ affect started to infect how I read those…
It’s been a long time since then. I was curious to watch the I Kill Giants movie, written by Joe and helmed by first-time feature director Anders Walter, thinking that the issues I had with the comic might actually be better served by the format, and that I’m far enough away, timewise, from when I read the book to be able to form a fair opinion on a new version. …That the movie left me with with a very similar disconnect, and that it had very similar problems to what I recalled from the comic, can be said to mean that it’s a great adaptation, I suppose, but the consolidation of the concept (7 issues down to a 100ish minute movie) and removal of Niimura’s art from the equation makes it a less enjoyable experience overall.
Barbara Thorson (Madison Wolfe) is a weird kid. She’s got a latchkey kid family – her old sister (Imogen Poots) doing most of the heavy lifting for absent parents – and tests the patience of all around her with anti-social behavior. She pushes away the attempted friendship of new neighbor Sophia (Sydney Wade); she’s borderline insulting and not-so-borderline violent toward the school psychologist (Zoe Saldana). Part of the behaviors a lot of us can likely sympathize with to a degree: not getting along with her brother’s vacuous personality and rowdiness; frustrated by her sister’s need to constantly be at or going to work; feeling out of place at school. And so Barbara dresses a little different, and plays D & D, and has her own made-up world of sigils and totems. She’s clearly intelligent, and she also knows she’s weird. She slowly allows Sophia in to her personal space, and slowly allows the psychologist in as well, likely sensing the honest interest both have taken in her, but she can’t get too close: she’s busy saving the town from giants.
This is where my emotional split with the comic happened, and it’s present in the movie in the same way: I Kill Giants plays at Barbara’s imaginings – the giants; her sigils and totems that bless her giant-killing weapons and traps – as real in a Calvin and Hobbes way, showing us what Babs sees when others aren’t around. Except – spoiler? – it doesn’t play at this at the same time. Part of Calvin and Hobbes’ eternal charm is that Bill Watterson allows us to have it both ways (it’s real and it isn’t) by imbuing both sides of the equation with a sense of reality. Of course Calvin’s stuffed tiger isn’t real, but… he could be, and that’s something that I Kill Giants is just never keen enough to manage. The story never convinces us, despite a committed performance from Madison Wolfe, that this stuff is more than fantasy, and as such, it’s hard to know what to make of scenes that try to pull the “maybe it’s real!” shtick, when every other scene has made the unreality of it pretty clear. Saldana and Wade and Poots all ping-pong off of Wolfe extremely well, but the “human” side of the story is similarly hampered by the wayward manner in which the movie tries to handle Barbara’s background, playing some things up as “twists” that are obvious, and then treating other scenes with a sense of ominousness or severity that isn’t earned. Ultimately, this means that neither the fantastical or emotional parts of the story work very well. And visually, director Walter – either limited by budget or imagination – just doesn’t know what to do with some of the bigger, weirder ideas, leaving us with Rasmus Heise’s rather mundane, blue-tinted cinematography that does nothing to elevate the already struggling story.
There’s definitely a very relevant and powerful idea here, and I feel like that’s what people positively responded to regarding the comic, which wasn’t constrained by budgets, or blue-tints. I Kill Giants the movie does have those constraints, though, and then shares the book’s flaws of not balancing and presenting its story in a very effective fashion.