I fully admit that I get taken in by the nostalgia brought on by things like “Stranger Things” and the the pop culture easter egg hunt of “Ready Player One”. But I do concede that these properties are not, “The Goonies”, “E.T.” or “The Last Starfighter”. They prey on my love of those worlds but rarely do they create a lasting one of their own. These movies sparked imagination and that feeling of what one would do as a child put in an extraordinary situation. Enter “I Kill Giants” based on the comic book by Joe Kelly and J. M. Ken Niimura. With a poster that has the name Harry Potter above it, where will it fall among the many attempts to capture the magic of childhood classics?
Barbara (Madison Wofle) lives with her older brother Dave (Art Parkinson) her and older sister Karen (Imogen Poots) in a seaside home in New Jersey. Barbra also lives in her own world in the nearby woods, where she tracks giants. Bullied or ignored at school, she manages to make a friend in Sophia (Sydney Wade) at the same time, the school councilor (Zoe Saldana) tries to understand Barbra’s distance and anger she carries with her. Soon Barbra introduces her world of giant-slaying, potions, and magical hammers to her new friend as she attempts to keep her town safe from the looming threat of these fantastic beasts.
The above mention of Harry Potter is due to the producing of legend Chris Columbus who is responsible for directing classics like “Mrs. Doubtfire”, a the first two Potter movies as well as the first two “Home Alone” movies. Though he always has a place in my heart for his earlier work. Along with writing “Gremlins”, “The Goonies”, and “Young Sherlock Holmes”, and directing “Adventures in Babysitting”, and the sorely under-seen “Heartbreak Hotel” where a young man and his siblings kidnap Elvis Presley for their mom’s birthday. I bring theses movies up because if there are any above that you haven’t seen, you should seek them out. But even more than that, when you compare his previous producing work, with the Potter films, the Night at the Museum, and Percy Jackson movies, all of which were successful in their own way, none of them have come as close to his classic tone and feel than “I Kill Giants”. It has that vibe I look for in a kids adventure movie that is lacking in most of the yearly fare. Wolfe as Barbara is no Fanning sister but she keeps up with the heavy lifting she’s required to do throughout the course of the film with small but valuable support from both Poots and Saldana.
Director Anders Walter comes though like a new guy finding his feet, but with a style he can carry to other projects and the script by co-creator of the comic Joe Kelly also makes some rookie mistakes with by showing his had a bit too early and too often. It’s possible I am biased in that regard as I have read the comic, which was one of the very few that brought a tear to my eyes. And I’m not gonna lie, this movie did the same. Despite it’s flaws of inexperienced writing and directing and a running time to tends to drag in places it is still a solid film, worthy of a wide release and not the VOD route the studio chose, even Netflix would have worked since this is better than most of what they churned out with both their original and acquired content. It’s also rare that you see an all female centric cast like this outside a made-for-television movie, it is something that should be pushed to the forefront to show that it can be done and done well.
“I Kill Giants” has what most films that venture into this subject matter strive for, and what those early 80’s kids films had, and that’s heart. Feeling for your characters is what can put you there, and showing the kids perspective no matter how fantasical it may seem can go a long way. The kids in “The Goonies” parents are losing their homes, Elliot’s mom in “E.T.” is still dealing with a divorce, and Alex Rogan’s mom in “The Last Starfighter” is a single parent trying to get her kid in college. But the adults are not the focus, we don’t see their struggles, only when we become adults. The kids have their own issues and problems and those are what we cling to and “Giants” taps into that in a way that takes me back to those days. Where it does delve into some darker subject matter with bulling and family struggles, by the end, the heart of Barbra and her quest to keep her town safe are the driving force that make this memorable enough when I consider the best films of the year.