Image Comics’ I KILL GIANTS was my biggest surprise of 2017. I had very little hope for this graphic novel with a cutesy manga art style set in a high school drama. But here’s the thing. I loved it. Everything about that comic spoke to writer Joe Kelly’s intelligent, psychological storytelling. At the story’s heart is a troubled, scared young woman dealing with heartbreaking truths, but every facet of the story is saturated with her imaginative worldview.

Imagine my surprise, then, when I discovered that March 23, 2018, would see the release of a live-action version of the film. The filmmakers have released only one trailer, and bookstores have traded out I KILL GIANTS’ original comic book cover for one featuring the movie poster. With so little hype or advertising, you may be asking why you should care at all about this project.

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With PACIFIC RIM 2 coming out on the same day and AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR coming out next month, you may want to save your money. However, I KILL GIANTS may just be a film worthy of your attention.

With a little bit of background on the original graphic novel, as well as some speculation, this article will give you everything you need to know to decide whether or not you will go and see this film on March 23. Whether it be the kickass scenes of a high schooler fighting giants or the heart-wrenching story of an outcast girl, I KILL GIANTS is poised to give every viewer something they enjoy.

I KILL GIANTS: The Graphic Novel

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Cover of I KILL GIANTS #1. Courtesy of Image Comics

I KILL GIANTS’ first issue released in July 2008, and it ran for seven issues. Joe Kelly wrote the story, while J.M. Ken Niimura provided the manga-like art. After the story’s publication, I KILL GIANTS went on to win several awards and accolades including IGN’s “Best Indy book of 2008” as well as the Gold Award at the 5th international Manga Awards. The series has been a fan favorite tale for Image comics, and it really was only a matter of time before someone adapted it into a film.

Barbara Thorson acts as the protagonist of I KILL GIANTS. An outcast teen, Barbara has few friends and obsessions with strange facets of geek culture. In fact, giants are her only topic of conversation. After a serious family trauma tips Barbara’s life on its side, Barbara slips deeper and deeper into the depths of her imagination. In her mind, giants represent a very real threat to her Long Island.

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With this knowledge, Barbara has spent months preparing for their arrival. Her hammer, Coveleski, sits at the ready in a pocket bag. However, are these giants real? Do they actually stomp through Long Island, or are they simply the manifestations of a troubled girl’s mind?

These are the questions at the heart of I KILL GIANTS, and writer Joe Kelly never gives readers a definitive answer. Barbara’s desire to fight mirrors her own real-life struggles to accept the reality of her own pain. Besides, whether it is the fate of the world or the health of this one person’s mind, does the reality really matter that much?

I KILL GIANTS: The Movie

Madison Wolfe as Barbara Thorson. Courtesy of Ocean Blue Entertainment

Kelly and Niimura announced in March 2015 that there were plans to make I KILL GIANTS into a feature film. Soon after, the team invited Anders Walter to direct. After a 500 person talent search, they chose Madison Wolfe to play the role of Barbara Thorson. Zoe Saldana and Imogen Poots would eventually round out the key players in this cast. Exactly three years later, the film is ready for theaters, but with almost no grandstanding. It is almost as if this film has become this grand secret, only for a select few to know.

A large part of this secrecy may come from the indie nature of I KILL GIANTS, as a film and a comic. While creator-owned titles like THE WALKING DEAD have had mass market appeal, a story like I KILL GIANTS has a smaller reading base. Likewise, the film adaptation marks director Anders Walter’s debut.

Economically, it makes sense for the production houses to test the waters a bit with preview screenings. This is Walter’s chance to grow his name, and despite the lack of marketing, the film has a strong enough fan base to make or break his career. Thankfully, critics are already responding well to this comic adaptation.

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The film made its debut on September 9, 2017, at the Toronto International Film Festival. Critics seem to have warmed to the film’s storytelling and its focus on Barbara’s internal struggles. This seems to point toward a reflection of the original, which only makes sense with Joe Kelly penning the script. However, part of me still worries about this adaptation, and here is the reason why.

In Making a Trailer

The trailer for I KILL GIANTS seems to indicate a fairly strong adaptation of the source material. This makes some sense since the comic’s writer was in charge of the screenplay. Madison Wolfe perfectly emulates Barbara Thorson. The overt sarcasm and strength in every single line of her trailer monologue seemed genuine.

More importantly, the story seems to take cues directly from the comic. The monologue itself is based on several sections of dialogue from the story. Also, the scenes in which Barbara and her new friend Sophia examine the giant traps leaped straight from the page. However, there is one key difference I noticed in the I KILL GIANTS trailer.

In the comic, despite allusions to and brief appearances from Barbara’s imagined world, many of her problems are real issues. One of the primary villains in the story is the school bully. But in the trailer, none of this comes through. The primary focus is the fantasy aspect. The entire trailer signals several encounters between Barbara and the giants when the comics only had one.

This makes some sense from a marketing angle. Viewers want a story that has heart, but they also want one that moves forward relatively quickly. The intense action sequences here showcase this action-heavy aspect. However, if this approach is true of the whole film, does it represent the best way forward for the story?

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Barbara and Coveleski. Courtesy of OceanBlue Entertainment

This action-heavy change of pace may simply override any of the strong storytelling. Despite frequent appearances of Barbara’s imagined fairies, the comic made it clear that these giants may not be real. You have no choice but to question where the giant may appear from page one.

This provides an innate intensity, not unlike horror films. Every time Barbara turns a corner, this massive monster could step out and attack. The original story didn’t need a constant action atmosphere to instill this atmosphere. For a more mainstream medium like film, this may not be the case. Viewers may need to see more outright conflict to deem the film worthy.

The missing giants in the comic, though, also played another role. It forced readers to follow Barbara through her daily life. This aspect made us see the theme, made us pay witness to the fact that this young woman is hurting. Something is very wrong in her life, and she can’t handle it.

In that way, the looming giants actually act as more of a portal into the grander human tale. The story has to put Barbara at odds with bullies and her sister because there is no other antagonist. I worry, and rightfully so, that a higher intensity tale will take away some of that dramatic impact. Viewers will judge the film based only on the giant fights, and that isn’t the point.

Final Thoughts on I KILL GIANTS: the Movie

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I KILL GIANTS, Issue 1, Pages 2-3. Courtesy of Image Comics

Let me end by saying that my worries might be completely off-base. The included action sequences may very well strengthen the overall storytelling. In fact, based on some early reviews, this may be just the case. Reviewers have applauded the dichotomy between fantasy and reality in the story.

From their words, I have hopes that this film lives up to the comic it emulates. It also helps that the man behind the comic is adapting the story. It relieves some of the anxiety that other comic adaptations inspire, being that both versions stemmed from the same mind.

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However, this doesn’t mean that my worries are any less valid. I want this film to succeed. Not only will it be a potential boon to Anders Walter’s career. It will also showcase the literary potential in comics for non-fans. These overt action sequences may take away from the realistic feel of the film.

They could turn I KILL GIANTS into another superhero-style flick, which does nothing more for the comic book medium. That’s all I can say until the film comes out. I may have to wait until the May 2018 Blu-Ray release, but I can easily say that I will be the first in line with my money in hand.

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