by Angela Bourassa (@angelabourassa1)
Making it through middle school in one piece is hard. It’s that much harder when your town is plagued by ancient giants determined to destroy everything that you hold dear. And it doesn’t help when you’re being raised by your overworked sister, your school counselor just can’t understand, and the second floor of your house is… well, you’ll see.
I Kill Giants starring Zoe Saldana, Imogen Poots, and Madison Wade comes to theaters today, offering a fresh alternative to the likes of Pacific Rim Uprising. Centered on young Barbara – a closed-off, hard to like eighth grader who simultaneously compels and concerns the audience with her extreme dedication to giant hunting – the film examines the isolation and fear that’s all part of the territory of growing up. But I Kill Giants deepens those explorations by adding a first encounter with death to the mix. It would have been all too easy to make light of Barbara’s imaginative take on reality, but I Kill Giants allows Barbara to have her own view of things without forcing any of the adult characters in the story to accept her vision. It’s the balance that this story strikes between fantasy and painfully real, universal experiences that makes it so special.
I’ll admit that I had a hard time warming up to Barbara, and writer Joe Kelly assured me I wasn’t alone. Laughing when I asked if he ever got the note that Barbara should be more “likeable,” he said, “Oh yeah. I actually toned her down quite a bit from the graphic novel, and I also made her older. She has a real mouth on her in the books, but we needed to adjust that to make her a little more accessible for the film. Madison Wade [who plays Barbara] does an amazing job of showing just how strong and determined this girl is, regardless of her age.” He added, “Madison has a long career ahead of her.”
From the beginning, Barbara has no interest in being likeable, and yet she manages to win over the audience, even when she breaks our hearts. We worry about her, we want to help her. We fall into the shoes of her school counselor, played by the ever-wonderful Zoe Saldana, who can’t help but reach out to her again and again, even after Barbara slaps her in a moment of desperation, confusion, and panic.
Joe Kelly wrote the graphic novel I Kill Giants, illustrated by Ken Niimura, which won the International Manga Award (among other accolades) in 2012. While Joe got his start in comics with a job at Marvel right out of college, his first passion was always film. Through Man of Action, where Joe is a partner, he and the other Men have created Ben 10, a $4.5 billion boys action franchise, and created the characters in Big Hero 6. Joe is also the person credited with revising and revitalizing Deadpool.
But despite his huge impact in the world of comics, with I Kill Giants, he had his eye set on film, and he actually wrote the screenplay before turning it into a graphic novel.
That said, Joe isn’t a proponent of screenwriters trying to turn their scripts into graphic novels in order to gain more traction. “They’re totally separate skill sets,” he said. “And readers of graphic novels know when they’re being fed a story that is clearly a reformatted screenplay. If a graphic novel is the right form for your story, then by all means – tell your story. But if you’re just trying to repackage something for more exposure, save your time and your money.”
I Kill Giants takes an unexpected turn that caught me by surprise and gave the film an added layer of emotional complexity. After the film, it was easy to recognize the hints that Joe littered throughout the script, but none of them came together until the big reveal, which is – I think – one of the most satisfying moments for any movie audience. I asked Joe how he went about crafting that twist. Without any spoilers, he told me:
“I think the key was keeping the story very much told from Barbara’s perspective. There are maybe two scenes in the whole movie that she’s not in. We’re with her throughout it all, so we’re seeing things the way she sees them. To her, these giants are very much real, so that’s how we see them, whether you believe they’re real or not. That’s up to you as the viewer to decide for yourself, but to her, they’re real. And at the same time, there are things that she’s choosing not to hear, things that she’s choosing not to accept. So the audience doesn’t learn what that is until the moment when she finally lets that wall down.”
I Kill Giants is in theaters and On Demand/Digital HD today. Go see it.
Angela Bourassa is the founder and Editor in Chief of LA Screenwriter.