Nacho Vigalondo’s Colossal isn’t the fun, kaiju-infused romp much of its marketing presented it to be. It isn’t a light-hearted story about friends getting together. Not even slightly. It also isn’t a monster movie—at least not in the way viewers will likely expect it to be. But it is undoubtedly worth watching.
The setup for Colossal is fairly straightforward. Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is a former online journalist who’s been unemployed for a year and consistently turning to alcohol and poor decision making to get by. Her understandably frustrated boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) can’t put up with her any longer, so she finds her way, broke and alone, back to her parents’ house in her old hometown. She meets up with old friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) and his friends Joel (Austin Stowell) and Garth (Tim Blake Nelson), and does her best to get back on her feet—and her best isn’t exactly good.
Oh yeah. She also discovers that the kaiju monster making its way through Seoul night after night is an extension of herself in a playground. Because of course it is.
Colossal‘s central conceit might sound ridiculous—it is ridiculous—but it absolutely works. It works well when it’s a slightly confusing wrinkle in Gloria’s already complicated life, but it works even better when it’s an impossibly important responsibility for Gloria as the fun of showing up as a giant monster halfway across the world gives way to emotional burden following her accidental killing of countless citizens of Seoul.
Gloria has a lot to deal with in Colossal, much of it existing outside of her grief-inducing ability/burden—particularly in the form of her three key relationships in the film. Tim wants Gloria to get her life together, but he can’t help her do it. That would be cool if he didn’t also insist on being part of it, to the point that he eventually tries to rescue Gloria. Oscar has some serious nice guy syndrome, and Joel is basically a kid whose every action is inspired by the initial actions of either Gloria or Oscar. All of her relationships suck in their own unique ways, and Gloria slowly begins to find herself both inside them and out as the movie takes her deeper into its premise.
At the start, Gloria’s the kind of woman who’s such a mess that she can’t even properly blow up an air mattress as she stumbles (physically and emotionally) through her hometown. She lost sight of herself and her identity long before Colossal starts, and caring about anything is beyond her.
Colossal is, front and center, about abuse. There are some real monsters on display here, but the Seoul-crushing (I’m sorry) kaiju controlled by Gloria isn’t even close to the worst of them. It’s in this way, and in the fact that the characters are more important than the giant beings they control, that Colossal works best. Anchored by a tremendous, heartbreaking performance from Anne Hathaway, Colossal becomes more than the sum of its parts—which it needs to do.
The movie’s premise is unique and genre-defying, and its performances, particularly from Hathaway and Sudeikis, do their best to elevate it farther, but much of it only barely works. Much of Colossal’s plot seems to unfold simply because Vigalondo wanted and needed the events to happen, and Oscar’s fireworks rant/show works far better as a character-defining moment than as a coherent element of the film’s story. Even still, this is a movie that shouldn’t be missed.
Colossal is not the movie many viewers will likely expect it to be, and it’s better off for it. Anyone willing to come for the fun kaiju movie and stick around for the meditation on abusive relationships and mental health will find something special here, even if the elements surrounding its strange, unique central conceit aren’t as strong as that conceit itself.
Colossal, written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, stars Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, and Dan Stevens. It’s available pretty much everywhere now.