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‘Nimona’ review: Rooting for the metal anti-hero

By June 16, 2023No Comments5 min read
A photo still of Nimona (voice of Chloë Grace Moretz) in NIMONA

Chloë Grace Moretz goes punk-edge medieval in Nimona, an adaptation of the popular graphic novel that was ultimately saved by Netflix.

Directed with anarchistic flair colored pink, Nimona channels an explosive energy as the little animated engine that could. Directed by Nick Bruno and Troy Quane and originally orphaned by Disney after its acquisition of Fox (and subsequently Blue Sky), Nimona was ultimately revived by Annapurna to be distributed through Netflix. Fittingly, the result is a bold, objectively queer story about rebelling against conformity.

Based on the graphic novel by award-winning artist and illustrator ND Stevenson, Nimona is set in an indistinct place and time period where gilded knights protect skyscrapers and dragons roam while projected on jumbotrons. The film merges multiple genres, sprinkling in elements of coming-of-age YA stories with fantasy and even romance.

Ballister Boldheart (Riz Ahmed) has been set up and framed for the murder of the realm’s Queen during his knighting ceremony — an event already met with public scrutiny as it makes him the first knight not born from a royal bloodline. Forced into hiding and his arm cleaved in two by his own boyfriend Ambrosius Goldenlion (Eugene Lee Yang), Ballister meets Nimona (Chloë Grace Moretz), a bright pink shape-shifter who bucks at being called a girl or a monster, emphasizing often that she’s “just Nimona.”

Ballister Boldheart (voice of Riz Ahmed) flinches as Nimona (voice of Chloë Grace Moretz) breathes fire on him

“Every villain needs a sidekick.”

But Nimona is also a wrecking ball, seeking out chaos and wreaking havoc as often as she can. Looking for revenge against a society that has ostracized her, she enlists Ballister’s help, believing him to be a kindred spirit. No dice. While he can’t offer her camaraderie by means of public destruction, the two become fast allies, both having been wronged by a totalitarian government.

Adapted by screenwriters Robert L. Baird and Lloyd Taylor from Stevenson’s original works, the film does quick work in establishing its unique tone, which thrives off of Nimona’s wild energy. While Ballister is an interesting character in his own right and the romance between him and Ambrosius is riddled with tension, Nimona is easily the star. From Moretz’s gleeful voice performance to the animator’s palpable joy shining through in the animation of her facial expressions alone, the character electrifies the entire film with her personality and presence.

Nimona is also allowed the greatest moments of emotional poignancy as we learn about her tragic past leading into her wayward present. These scenes offer some of the most stunning animations of the entire film, dipped further into fairy tales as the loneliness the character feels slowly encompasses the screen. Christophe Beck’s score up until these sequences is thunderous and buzzy, ricocheting through the panels of the screen that so mimic the panels of a comic book — a perfect mix of fluidity and lines. In the flashbacks, the music softens, and so too does Nimona’s character, not yet touched by the full hardships she’d face from the world around her because of a gift she can’t control.

“Why are you running around with a monster?”

Ballister at one point asks Nimona if she could just stop shapeshifting, a skill she uses in battle to transform from a whale to a mouse to a horse and finally a gorilla. Plainly put, she’d die, she tells him. It speaks to the overwhelming queer narrative of the film which is depicted in the text through Ballister and Ambrosius’s romantic relationship, but also in the subtext of Nimona’s story as she bucks against gender norms and the need to identify as anything other than her true self.

The film’s animation is often gorgeously rendered, another mix of styles that combines 2D and 3D styles. When successful, the story soars. This is most notable in a late act with a kaiju-style creature where the world and the colors bleed together, the lines and architecture of the world bending so that the sole focus can be on the creature itself. The flashbacks too are stunning examples of artistry, with the remainder of the film triumphant when it utilizes the opposing styles to create kinetic and pulsating action.

The animation falters however in more detailed moments. For example, the mouth of a character that’s too robotic is reminiscent of the era when hand-drawn animation was clumsily transitioning to 3D before the technological capabilities solidified. More notable, however, are the seams of the animation, such as characters who move in the foreground, their movement similar to that of a Sim. These moments are disconcerting in large part because, for the majority of the film, the animation otherwise sings. Additionally, the story itself loses some of its propulsive depth when Nimona isn’t the sole focus.

The bottom line.

While Nimona may not rise to the great heights of recent animated films such as Spider-Man Across the Spider-Verse (and frankly never had the budget for a fighting chance) it’s yet another refreshing revitalization of what a modern mainstream movie can be on the biggest streaming service around. Its progressive story, captivating lead character, and dizzying level of creativity charging the artistry makes Nimona a success in its own right. Especially in how it beat the odds to make it to audiences in the first place.

Nimona will be available to stream on Netflix on June 30. Watch the trailer below.

Images courtesy of Netflix. Read more articles by Allyson Johnson here.

  • NIMONA - 8/10
Allyson Johnson

Based in New England, Allyson is co-founder and Editor-in-Chief of InBetweenDrafts. Former Editor-in-Chief at TheYoungFolks, she is a member of the Boston Society of Film Critics and the Boston Online Film Critics Association. Her writing has also appeared at CambridgeDay, ThePlaylist, Pajiba, VagueVisages, RogerEbert, TheBostonGlobe, Inverse, Bustle, her Substack, and every scrap of paper within her reach.

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