The Revision: I Kill Giants

Barbara has a mission. She might be a preteen but she’s going to protect her town from the threat of giants. It doesn’t matter that no one else realizes the threat is there. She’s the last line of defense and she’s on top of it.

And this lets her ignore the crisis at home.

The cover of I Kill Giants

I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly (writer) and J. M. Ken Niimura (artist) definitely feels very personal and I am happy to be a bit charitable because of that. It’s compassionate toward its characters and the mix of fantasy danger and real-world trauma works to an extent. I just feel like it all comes together in too obvious of a way. Of course, Barbara’s not making up all of this stuff about giants but it’s still been a coping mechanism because her mother is sick. It’s not a subtle metaphor.

Barbara is a fun heroine, though. It’s refreshing to see a preteen girl who is awkward and unlikeable. This has to do with her mother’s illness, of course, but it’s great to see a girl get to be weird and prickly. Her shifting friendship with Sophia and her conflicts with the school bullies feel realistic to this period of adolescence.

Niimura’s art does feel like a late ’90s/early ’00s indie comic (it was first released in 2008) but it’s elevated by the manga-inspired page layouts. The gray washes and sense of action help it feel distinctive. While he excels more at the action than he does at the more grounded elements, he’s still a good match for Kelly’s writing. The art isn’t to my personal taste, exactly, but it works in the context of the comic.

I Kill Giants (2017, directed by Anders Walter) isn’t the most obvious choice when it comes to an adaptation, but its blend of fantasy action and real-life drama works well here for the most part. I do feel like the movie never quite decided if it was a fantasy kids’ movie (although more in an ’80s way) or an affecting family drama. It straddles too many tones but ultimately comes together into something that’s surprisingly moving.

The entire cast is great. Madison Wolfe captures Barbara’s difficult personality well. She hides her hurt under her angry exterior. Imogen Poots as Barbara’s sister, Karen, plays a young woman who’s been put in a tough position with kindness and empathy. Zoe Saldaña also gives a compassionate sweetness to Mrs. Mollé.

I appreciated that it made “giants are real!” more ambiguous than the comic did. In the comic, everyone sees the titan during the storm; in the movie, it’s only Barbara. Other characters, like Karen, are rounded out a bit more. Barbara’s journey feels more grounded because while she’s isolated herself, there are people around her who care about her. Since Kelly wrote the script, some of these things come across as another draft of the story and it works.

As much as I like that this is genuinely a story about girls and women (all the men in the movie are mostly irrelevant), my reaction was the same as it was the first time I watched this movie — I wonder what it would’ve been like to have women making this movie. As much as Kelly’s script and Walter’s direction are sensitive toward the characters, there is a certain intimacy and connection missing that I feel a woman director (or screenwriter) could have provided. I think, ultimately, that’s what’s lacking for me about both the comic and the movie — I always felt like I was seeing Barbara through someone else’s eyes and not her own.