The giant monster movie has been a staple of cinema for eighty years, through King Kong and Godzilla which created the template followed by a plethora of B-movies of the fifties and sixties, Them!, Tarantula, The Deadly Mantis, Reptilicus, a format which was radically altered by Cloverfield before returning to type with Pacific Rim and Kong: Skull Island. Like Cloverfield, Colossal is another attempt to tell a familiar story through the perspective of new eyes.
When Gloria is told by her boyfriend Tim that she is out of control and her life is a mess, he’s right. Returning home drunk just as he is preparing to leave for work, her friends are waiting in the car outside for her to signal the coast is clear so the party can resume; instead, Tim tells her he’s already packed her belongings and she’s being thrown out.
Returning home to the middle of nowhere one-horse town Mainhead, her parents have a summer home which isn’t currently rented out, but nor is it furnished. A chance encounter reconnects her with former schoolmate Oliver who offers her a job at his bar, and nightly drinking resumes along with his buddies Garth and Joel, but something big is about to change their lives.
Across the world in Seoul, a giant reptile is spreading terror, wrecking buildings and trampling the population before fading into mist. The attention of the world upon South Korea, Gloria notices certain gestures in the behaviour of the creature but doesn’t believe her incredulous suspicions until the horror of a test reveals the unshakeable reality that it is manifesting her actions.
Written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, like his debut feature Los Cronocrímenes it’s about consequences, the unforeseen and unintended ripples of random happenstance that magnify and require correcting adjustments that instead introduce more chaos into a rapidly tilting system.
The reliable Anne Hathaway brings the same charm and honesty she demonstrated in The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar to Gloria who despite being at times a selfish and self-destructive person is not an awful person despite possessing an alter-ego whose unconscious actions are all about the “crush, kill, destroy” much like the Id Monster of Forbidden Planet.
Unfortunately the same cannot be said of the men in her life. While Tim (Legion‘s Dan Stevens) tries to be as reasonable as he can in the circumstances, like anyone in a long-term relationship with someone with a pre-existing long-term relationship with alcohol, his well of patience has almost been emptied, but his supporting role is insufficiently developed to make his weary devotion to Gloria believable.
Instead, while the kaiju rampages in Asia the real monster is in Gloria’s hometown; she has made many bad decisions but the choices of Oliver (The Last Man on Earth‘s Jason Sudeikis) are considered and calculated with full awareness of what he is doing, the actions of an unstable man who is determined that none of his friends should do better than him or escape his influence, manipulating them like puppets as Gloria does the kaiju.
Marketed as a knockabout comedy with elements of science fiction, Colossal is actually a serious drama about deeply dysfunctional people, a much harder sell for an audience but a calculated deception which will disappoint many who expected to enjoy a considerably lighter meal than what Vigalondo is serving.
Almost two hours long, the sparse narrative is insufficient to last the course and the token attempt to explain Gloria’s connection with the kaiju is unworthy of the man who crafted the meticulous clockwork of Los Cronocrímenes. A film about accepting responsibility and choosing to do better, unfortunately it is Vigalondo who must answer if Colossal fails to live up to its potential.