IKill Giants is a colorful fantasy drama from the makers of the Harry Potter movies and Big Hero 6 about the growing pains of adolescence and coping with loss amid the oftentimes toiling search for friendship and acceptance. An indie film with heart, imagination, and a big-budget feel — if you’re not careful you might miss out on this one.
Barbara (Madison Wolfe) is an urchin who fancies herself a giant slayer. Judging by her depictions strewn throughout the movie, they are some titanically menacing bastards (either that or she thought Pacific Rim and A Monster Calls were documentaries). And she is all that stands between her sleepy Long Island town and certain doom. So she draws runes and lays traps containing her own concoctions which are supposed to be anathema to the chimerical behemoths.
If that doesn’t work, she has an enchanted warhammer in her purse.
As you can imagine, Barbara doesn’t really fit in at school and does all she can to stand out while remaining aloof — by wearing bunny ears much of the time and not having many friends. The two exceptions are a school psychologist played by Zoe Saldana who wants to understand her, and is one of only a handful showing Barbara kindness, and the new girl in town, lassie Brit Sophia. Besides that, there roams the requisite trio of mean girls out to get her.
Her home life is also a wreck. Busy and stressed out sister Karen (Imogen Poots) is doing her best to support the family but is that the end of her rope between trouble Barbara gets in and a dead end job. Their brother is a mouthy gamer who couldn’t care less about anybody. And it’s here we find out about Barbara’s secret fascination with baseball and the Philadelphia Phillies which maybe the most mundane though intriguing thing about her. Particularly, she is obsessed with turn-of-the-century player Harry Coveleski, notorious for shutting out -that’s right- the Giants!
More than holding up some neo-tradition of modern coming of age adventures with active-verb titles, I Kill Giants strives to stay grounded and not get so carried away by the fairy-tale undertones. Baseball adds an element of balance against the lived-out RPG capering. Today’s kids are supposed to be more sophisticated and often are portrayed crossing the apocryphal line between geek pursuits and sports, which are associated mostly with jock culture. A gamer can be on the football team. Madison Wolfe imbues Barbara with that layered dichotomy of incongruous interests and snobbish aplomb, reclusive and bookish as she might be.
But Barbara is dichotomous beyond her superficial hobbies. Her disposition is the archetypal loner, too cool for others due to a comfortable elitism arising out of her sense of duty. Like Iron Man, she has the mission in mind and can’t risk endangering anyone else (she reads a lot of books and probably a few comics). But, as much as she thinks she sacrifices following the code of a warrior, it’s clear she uses this front to deal with tragedy by running from it. Only she doesn’t believe that. Fragile at heart and diminutive, the girl aspires to a nobler, higher calling to prove she is made of stiffer stuff.
Written and produced by Joe Kelly and based on his graphic novel, the comic-book themes are to be expected, somewhat similar to last year’s Happy Death Day. Be that as it may, they never weigh the narrative down. It never feels like an adaptation. The text of the picture stands on its own as a finely tuned, positively cinematic melodrama containing cartoon moments and darker elements that never get too dark or oppressive.
Which is good for Saldana: she doesn’t have to act through make-up or motion capture. Not that it’s a rare thing, but it’s like a treat when she does.
Saying that notwithstanding, there are CGI creatures that build to an FX filled final battle; they just make you wait for it. And that is no chore by any means. The path to get there is an emotionally involving one and the fight serves as a dramatic lead into the last act that reveals all and tugs at the heartstrings.
Questions linger about the existence of giants and beasts of myth and whether they’re all an illusion. While Potter-tinged, I Kill Giants isn’t Harry Potter. The validity of magic is more open-ended. What really matters is the metaphor they serve for the struggles we face in life: some human, some fantastical, some inexorable.
I Kill Giants opens today. The writer received a copy of the film for review purposes.