Review: 'I Kill Giants' Offers Angry Girls An Epic Fantasy Heroine
“I’m a little mean to people who are dumb,” says the angry young heroine of I Kill Giants, “And most people are dumb.” Girl, we hear you.
Based on the graphic novel by Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Niimura, I Kill Giants centers on ostracized adolescent Barbara Thorson (Madison Wolfe). At school, she’s bullied by a towering mean girl Taylor (Rory Jackson). At home, she’s ignored by her gamer brother and overworked sister (Imogen Poots). But on her own, Barbara is a warrior and a sorcerer. Armed with an unflappable bravery and a pink pocketbook that contains her mighty magical Warhammer, she finds giants. She hunts giants. She kills giants. However, while Barbara sets out to protect her small New Jersey coast town from the onslaught of a ruthless titan, everyone else thinks she’s crazy. Except for maybe the sweet-faced new kid in town Sophia (Sydney Wade), who desperately wants Barbara as a friend.
Touted as a fantasy tale from the producers of Harry Potter, I Kill Giants might seem a perfect pick for kids who love magic and adventure. But be warned, there’s something darker lying under the surface of this story. Yes, Barbara is a savagely brave little girl who will face alienation and judgment, who won’t back down from violent bullies or skyscraper-high beasts. But she’s also a deeply troubled child running from a family trauma that makes her feel powerless. Once her motivations are revealed, that might be a bit much for younger audiences to handle. However, older kids and grown-ups will feel for the girl who looks at an unfair world where pain and destruction can come without warning, and looks to battle back.
Stylistically, Anders Walter’s I Kill Giants is a scrappy adaptation. It’s not that it feels low-budget, though it’s definitely less costly and spectacle-packed than the Harry Potter movies. Rather, it’s a fitting reflection of Barbara’s world. Her clothes and signature bunny ear headband (a tribute to her spirit guide) are dingy and tattered. The beaches and woods where she hunts and hangs with Sophia are untamed and overgrown. The giants are dark and foreboding but often obscured by storm or shadow. The color palette has a wash of grey, as if a storm is on the horizon. And for Barbara, it is.
This adventure story dares to center on an angry girl, and rather than criticizing her for her unladylike fury, it explores that rage’s source, and Barbara’s inner complexities and turmoil. Like A Wrinkle In Time, I Kill Giant’s heroine is a messy, furious, self-loathing girl who learns to be a hero and love herself. And Wolfe is riveting as the seething Barbara.
Her chin thrust forward, her eyes hard, she is a heartbreaking hellion on the hunt for a fight she can win. And in her edged but weary delivery, Wolfe boasts a wit beyond her years. After Barbara defends herself by spitting on Taylor, the school counselor (Zoe Saldana in a small but key role) asks if she thinks that’s “funny.” Barbara challenges, “Not ha ha funny, but existentially, yes.” When Taylor later grabs her in the school’s halls, Barbara hisses, “I will do things to you that will make God cry!” She speaks in pronouncements, and Wolfe lands every one as if this were not a modern-day suburb, but Westeros or Hogwarts. Barbara’s boldness makes you want to believe in giants and the girl with the pink purse and fiery glare.
I adored I Kill Giants for all its scrappiness, fury, and fantasy. Its heroine is gruff, a rarity for girls onscreen, but nonetheless, she is lovable. Wolfe turns in a sparking and sneering performance that instantly grounds the film’s mix of mundane and monsters. The supporting cast is solid, yet its bigger names never outshine its central star. Its grungy aesthetic gives grit. The dark and stern tone puts its trust in Barbara, giving the film over to her perspective, allowing us into her world while she keeps others at a distance. I Kill Giants is an insightful and emotionally sophisticated kid’s tale that’s enchanting, disturbing, and ultimately wonderful.
I Kill Giants will be available in theaters and On Demand / Digital HD on March 23rd.