Those going into Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal expecting a light-hearted Kaiju movie filled with dumb fun are going to be sorely disappointed. Not that there’s anything wrong with big dumb Kaiju movies (I for one love ’em), but Colossal has bigger issues on its mind. And it ain’t exactly subtle about them.
We begin Colossal with an introduction to Gloria (Anne Hathaway) as she’s returning home from what can only be assumed is a routine night of excessive drinking. It’s immediately obvious she’s an alcoholic. At home, she’s greeted by her demonstrably angry boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens). Instinctively, Gloria begins offering excuses and explanations for where she was all night, but Tim isn’t having it. Though we aren’t told explicitly, this isn’t their first fight, but it is their last. Tim packs up Gloria’s things and kicks her out of his New York metropolitan apartment. With that, Gloria moves pack to her old hometown in hopes of figuring her shit out.
Back home, almost nothing has changed in 15 years. The sites are still and people living there are still the same. Gloria runs into her old childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who is now running the bar/restaurant that used to be owned by his father. On the surface, Oscar is a nice sweet boy, offering her furniture for her home, a job at the bar, and friends to drink with, but this dude’s got some deep-seated issues of his own. But more on that later.
All of Oscar’s help, unfortunately, ends up enabling her addiction and characteristically poor life choices. During one night of particularly heavy drinking, Gloria happens upon a park near her old house. After stumbling around it in her drunken stupor, she makes her way home and passes out, only to discover the next day that a giant reptilian monster has materialized and attacked Seoul. She recognizes a familiar tick she has in the monsters, and soon enough she puts two and two together, realizing that when she is in that old playground, she controls the monster.
What is so brilliant about Colossal is the way director Nacho Vigalondo uses the Kaiju wreaking havoc throughout South Korea as a manifestation of Gloria’s self-destructive habits. Her drunken rampage directly resulted in death and destruction in Seoul, giving her the wake-up call she so desperately needs. She feels responsible for each and every life lost as the result of her actions.
This character arc of Gloria self-actualizing and owning up to her mistakes is mostly completed in the first half of the film, before deftly switching gears into a story focused on emotional abuse and manipulation. Impressively, Vigalondo’s sharp script manages to weave two distinct stories together that inform upon one another, all in the short span of one hundred minutes.
This second arc kicks into gear once Oscar realizes that he too has the power to materialize as a monster in Seoul. After Gloria reveals to Oscar and friends that she is the giant monster, Oscar steps onto the playground, and a giant robot also appears in Seoul.
You see, Oscar has idolized Gloria’s life from afar. She’s lived the high-life in New York City while he’s been stuck in the same old town with the same old people. With the revelation that he too can control a giant monster, Oscar determines that this is his chance to feel big and important, a far cry from his perceived boring and depressing life.
At first, Oscar is an ostensibly charming “nice guy.” You know the type. He hates himself. He’s the guy who feels entitled to a woman’s affection due to the virtue of being nice to her as if his “niceness” are simply coins distributed into a slot machine until he wins the sex jackpot. Soon enough, he realizes this isn’t that case. When that doesn’t work, he turns to even more manipulative action. Oscar lays it out to Gloria: if he doesn’t get his way, then he will wreak havoc on Seoul each and every day. He doesn’t feel responsible for the carnage occurring on the other side of the globe like Gloria does. To him, they may as well not exist. Just faces on a screen. He’s an empathy-lacking internet troll Gamergater embodied in a giant killer robot.
While Colossal its share of Kaiju punching action, the majority of these dramatic scenes are relegated to the playground and the film manages to have a lot of fun with these sequences with Vigalondo’s masterful directing. While we may simply see a couple of adults stomping around the sandbox indiscriminately, the dark implications of this are immediately felt due to clever editing and photography and the use of non-diegetic sound. We hear the screams of terror from the citizens as Oscar stomps around like a spoiled brat as well as the cheers as Gloria clocks him in his stupid face.
There is a lot of darkness in Colossal due to its subject matter, but it still manages to be hilarious. The concept alone is ridiculous and the film is fully aware of that. Intercutting Anne Hathaway drunkenly dancing or arguing on the phone and a giant sea monster performing the same actions is absolutely hysterical. Not only that, but Gloria’s constant quips continuously delight. Hathaway brings her A-game here, oozing charisma, even when we find her in some pretty bad spots. The banter between Gloria and company never stops being enjoyable, at least until things begin to take a darker turn.
Sudeikis turns in a fantastic performance as well, managing to be extremely hateable one moment and sympathetic the next. Even in the beginning, his charm and warmth carry an uncomfortable undertone that is faintly apparent, and Sudeikis plays it beautifully.
The film is paced magnificently bar repeating flashbacks that add nothing but an explanation as to why Gloria and Oscar can become giant monsters, but it brings the film to a screeching halt every time it happens. Plus, the film didn’t really need an explanation for this! I was content just to role with the concept, but attempting to explain it simply opened a whole other can of worms when it came to questioning the core premise.
Other than that nitpick, Colossal is an exceptional film loaded with heart, wit, and introspection, tackling dark subject matter with a Kaiju-sized fist. Let’s be honest, who doesn’t want real emotional resonance whilst watching two giant monsters duke it out?