Friday, July 21, 2023

Review: Nimona the Movie

The details may differ but the vibes are immaculate in this remake of a great comic into an equally great - if somewhat changed - film.

I loved Nimona the comic. Adored it. And I'm one of those people who's never quite satisfied when movies remake a story from another source, because they're never... quite right. They get the details wrong, the characters don't look like I imagine them, the story gets changed, and through some alchemy of all these minor issues, the whole thing just feels... off. And in having those minor issues, Nimona is no different to all the rest - you can't remake a book or a comic scene for scene into a film, after all. It just doesn't work like that.

And yet, somehow, I don't care.


If you're not familiar with the comic, Nimona by ND Stevenson is the story of Lord Ballister, rogue knight, wanted by the authorities for his crimes, and Nimona, a teenage girl with great hair and a thirst for chaos, who shows up one day wanting to be his sidekick for his evil schemes. Except... she's not just a teenage girl, as becomes rapidly apparent. So it's a story of finding out who Nimona truly is and what she wants, as well as Ballister's own story, his relationship to the kingdom and the authority figures who brand him the villain and, perhaps, a little bit of heroics.

Vs Film-Ballister
Is this the story told in the film? Yes. Well. More or less. Have they changed the backstory to condense it? Yes, absolutely. Does this make some quite fundamental structural changes to the story? Of course. Does movie-Ballister look somewhat different to how I pictured him from his comic version? Yes (he's much squishier). Do they cut down the time building the relationship between him and Nimona, so we see the escalation of trust between them at lightning speed? Yup.  All these differences are absolutely there, on screen, noticeable from the first moment of watching but at no point did I feel like they mattered, because they got the vibes right. It felt right. And that counts for a hell of a lot.

But that's not all it's got going for it.

Even if you've never read the comic, never had the slightest idea what it was even about, I think Nimona, purely as a film, is an absolute winner. At its core, it's cute, it's fun, it's got a great heart, it's genuinely funny, and it knows how to tell a story, whole and complete, in under two hours, a feat I think a great deal of the film industry could learn much from. They made the very good decision to step entirely away from remaking the comic panel by panel, or even spiritually anything like that, and instead asked - what is the core of this story? How does it feel? What do the readers get out of it, by the end? And chose to use the same characters, the same setting and the same theme to try to get the readers to that same end point while fully committing to their medium.

One of the key parts of that success for me is the absolutely spot-on casting. The voice actors are all perfect, and sell their roles emotionally from the get go. Obviously Nimona's voice - Chloë Grace Moretz - is front and centre on this, with in many ways to hardest, widest ranging character to sell. Nimona rattles dramatically between ennui, adorableness, chaos and somewhat alarming anger, and that's a lot to cram in, especially when those points come extremely close to each other with intense swings in between. Nimona is, quite simply, A Lot. But Moretz absolutely has the range to cover it. But the secondary characters shine nearly as much - Riz Ahmed's Ballister is softer, younger, more vulnerable and unsure than his comic equivalent, but manages just as much warmth to his outcast sidekick, and his comedic confusion is sold well without ever leaving him hapless. Eugene Lee Yang's Goldenloin was the big surprise for me - I know of him not so much as a voice actor but as part of a comedy youtube collective The Try Guys - and as a character occupying the middle ground between the forces of the kingdom and our protagonists, his role could well have been a tricky one to manage. But there's no sense in his performance that he's not cut out for the role, and I really loved the warmth he brought to Goldenloin, and to his relationship with Ballister.

There's also the graphics - Nimona is a visually distinctive film (differently but no less than the comic) - and these are likewise handled brilliantly. The world of the story is one of both high-tech future, with flying bikes and bright lights, and one of knightly nostalgia, and the combination of those two manages a genuine cohesion that gives the world its distinctive, constant vibe. There are little nods in many of the techiest parts back to the faux-medieval, especially with knights on somewhat horse-reminiscent flying quad-bikes and the laser-swords, that make the whole thing feel thought out and joined together, rather than a horrible mishmash, even when some parts of the worldbuilding are consciously played for jokes.

Like much of the successful parts of the film, in fact, the success here is in leaning in. Nimona was never going to be a success in moderation. And the filmmakers have embraced that and committed to everything at full tilt. There's a visible joy in the way Nimona herself moves - especially through her shapeshifting and fight-scenes, and how the two are seamlessly synthesised - and the animation of character interactions and drama that speaks to a deep core thesis on what they want the film to feel like that thoroughly underpins every part of the story. Which is exactly what I mean when I say that the vibes are immaculate - the film is wildly, determinedly itself at every moment, and in every still, every gif, you see some little glimmer of the whole, because it never stops being itself, even in the smallest, silliest details. It inhabits itself completely.

That being said, there are some flaws. Because it is such a short film, and one that draws from a much longer source, it has a brevity that sometimes borders on curtness, especially when it comes to the development of relationships between characters, and their motivations. Some of this it sidesteps by how it chooses to frame the story - we get Ballister and Goldenloin right at the start as a framework through which to view the rest of the story, rather than something to build towards, which necessarily fast-tracks Goldenloin into "balanced character" rather than the dickhead he seems at the start of the comic - but some of it is just unavoidable. Critically - Ballister and Nimona trusting one another. It happens fast because it has to, for the story the film needs to tell in the time it clearly wants to tell it. And I can see an argument for how expanding the film to give the relationships more breathing space might have been beneficial. It would certainly give more time for Nimona to be the spikier, more chaotic self she is in the comics, with a shell that takes longer for Ballister to break through, to find the emotions at the squishy centre. But that extension would come with a sacrifice to the rapidfire energy of the story, and truthfully, while the flaw is there, while they do rush... I have to admit I didn't care.

Likewise, if you're here looking for a Ballister who fully embraces his villainhood, and his role in opposition to the forces of order in his society? Ehhhh you're not going to get that either, and that is something of shame.

In my opinion, the story gives you enough, there's enough humour and drama and fun that when it comes down to it, you're willing to extend the benefit of the doubt and suspend your disbelief for the things that need brushing under the carpet. There aren't a lot of them, and it never demands too much, but they do exist. It's a film that might suffer under nitpicking, but equally one that's brought its own, different joy to the table to pay for that exchange.

Ultimately, for me, it felt like one of those perfect-for-kids movies that adults can enjoy if they're willing to go in in the right frame of mind. At its heart, it understands and conveys the message of the comic, while making itself into something also wholly new. It's funny, it's sweet, it's different, and it's full of characters you want to watch and know more about, in an adventure that chooses a somewhat different take than many others. It succeeds at what it does by choosing its line and leaning in incredibly hard on it, by having that entirely coherent identity as something unique. So I had an absolute blast watching it, and will definitely come back again when I need a pick-me-up.


The Math

 maintains the soul of the original while adapting to a new medium, top notch voice acting, laugh out loud moments

Nerd Coefficient: 8/10

POSTED BY: Roseanna Pendlebury, the humble servant of a very loud cat. @chloroform_tea