I’m so glad to finally talk about this movie, because I think it’s one of the best things to release this year. Nick Bruno and Troy Quane have done something very special with this film. Centered around Ballister, a knight who was born a peasant, and is thus shunned by his fellow knights at The Institute, setting the table for him to be framed for a crime he didn’t commit, eventually having to prove his innocence by joining forces with Nimona, a shapeshifting troublemaker who’s not the monster she appears to be. Nicely written, full of heart with great animation and some fantastic voice acting, you definitely shouldn’t let this Netflix original go unnoticed!
Something I appreciated about this movie was how it engages with themes of monstrosity, class and gender. Nimona’s constantly asked what she is, to which she replies with increasing frustration, “I’m Nimona.” The parallels with trans identity become clearer as the film progresses, though the script never says it directly. I don’t think this necessarily means the movie skirts around the issue, though. It really explores what it means to be shunned by society for how one identifies. Nimona’s constantly called a monster because of her abilities, despite only ever being helpful and kind, much like Ballister being called a murderer despite not doing the crime. Be it their class or their identity, both are othered to the margins of society, making us question the powers that be. The Institute is clearly full of power-hungry bigots eager to get ahead no matter who they have to step on (sound familiar?). By the end of the film, what we’re really left to question is who the real monsters are, and the answer’s all too obvious. It’s a thought-provoking script propelled by some great visuals.
If I’m being a hundred percent honest, the animation of this movie initially didn’t do it for me. Something about that 3D style has a flattening effect on perspective; but it’s worth noting that this is a movie adapted from ND Stevenson’s graphic novel of the same name, and a lot of effort was undertaken to stay faithful to the original illustration style. When viewing the film through this lens, it’s a lot easier to see how it truly does look like a moving comic book in the best way. The action scenes are particularly dynamic, and every frame is jam-packed with fun. A lot of the big explosions and giant monsters are given a kind of mythic quality; and everything’s more engrossing because of the authenticity found in an embraced artifice. One could say they should’ve changed the art style to suit the medium, but I actually think it was a gamble that paid off in a really interesting way. The voice acting also does a great job at infusing these visuals with a ton of humanity.
Chloe Grace Moretz is fantastic as Nimona. With just her voice, she’s able to craft a character that’s eager to hide behind humor instead of showing just how vulnerable she really is; but viewers can tell there's something profound beneath the surface. There’s a lot of layers and a lot of heart in each performance, including Riz Ahmed’s Ballister, who carries the movie with an impressive range of emotions. Through their performances, the voice actors make it impossible to not relate to and root for these beloved underdogs.
In many ways, it’s a miracle this film exists. Its release was pushed back 5 times by Disney for showing a same sex kiss. It makes sense why Disney would want to suppress a film that talks about how constructs like class or gender are used to marginalize and exploit people; so much of their brand is based on the same system of profitable heteronormativity. Princess costumes, hypermasculine superhero movies, these are things that are directly challenged by the mere existence of Nimona. Movies like this make the streaming revolution a complicated topic, because without a platform like Netflix willing to pick this movie up, there’s a good chance it’d be lost in some vault like Warner Bros.’ Batgirl movie. Instead of the usual fanfare, what we’re given here is something different, and beautifully memorable. Watch it on Netflix! If you enjoyed this review, consider subscribing to the blog’s Patreon by clicking here! It helps pay the various fees that come with running a website, and keeps this blog ad-free and independent. There are also some cool benefits for those who choose to support the blog including: suggesting which movies I review, getting personalized movie recommendations, access to free giveaways and more!