Colossal, about a drunken dead-ender who discovers she has become an unwitting remote control for a massive horned monstrosity, is a film at war with itself. On the one hand, the spectacularly strange conceit prompts a delicious revision of the monster movie genre. Still, the potential novelty fails to take flight, making Colossal both too strange for mainstream audiences who typically buy tickets for monsters bashing each other movies and not really strange enough to satisfy audiences hoping for something truly nutty.
Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo has had mixed success in the time ferrying his brainchildren to the big screen. His first two features, Timecrimes and Extraterrestrial, were better received than his last, Open Windows, which featured only the happenings on a laptop monitor. The festival thriller told the story of a frantic fanboy (played by the perpetually wide-eyed Elijah Wood) stalking a movie star (porn star Sasha Grey trying (and failing) to transition to “legitimate” film) and came across as a gimmicky mess. Colossal is not the same breed of experimental dud but it’s a non-starter even so for reasons you may not expect.
Anne Hathaway is Gloria, a hard-drinking, hot mess journalist stuck between jobs and the bottle. She’s been loafing at boyfriend Tim’s (Dan Stevens) place but he’s had it up to here with her blackout shenanigans and officially gives her the boot. Returning home, Gloria struggles to put the pieces together, falling in company with local bar owner and old friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). The set-up is a festival favorite: success dried up, a once-somebody returns to their hometown and is swept up in past dramas. Colossal portends to be this movie, then it doesn’t, then it does again. Monsters or no, Colossal cannot sidestep the familiar tracks of this cliche set-up.
A night of particularly committed partying down, Gloria wakes to a disturbing newscast: a Godzilla-sized monster has decimated Seoul. Oddly, the beast appears to mimic her tics. As the world races to figure out what the hell is going on, Gloria experiments with the towering marionette of a kaiju, waving her arms, doing dance moves, and acting a goon, all to prove to fellow bar patrons, played by Austin Stowell and Tim Blake Nelson, that she is indeed the very monster haunting Seoul and the news cycle. There’s something inherently silly about a CGI creation that would otherwise be leveling cities just standing around, scratching its head and two-stepping but that silliness fails to translate to anything greater and here Colossal fails to become memorable.
Internal and external battles materialize in what is very obviously a thinly satirical play on alcoholism. As Gloria begins to confront the “monster” she has created, she is forced to contend with both her own demons and the individuals who want her to remain in a closed loop. Vigalondo’s story is one of self-destructive habits and overcoming such but the themes are so obvious and so familiar that even though there are giant monsters acting them out, the whole thing still feels tired and bleary.
Like someone mashed Pacific Rim with Leaving Las Vegas, Vigalondo’s screenplay is rarely clever. It’s as if Vigalondo wanted to be Joe Swanberg by way of Guillermo del Toro but without the storytelling mastery of either. The director fails to articulate key characterization, not accounting for what drives some critical character decisions. Sudeikis’ character in particular does an about face that doesn’t really ever make a ton of sense and leaves a gaping logic-sized hole. Vigalondo operates under the false presumption that the mixing of different genres (monster movie and indie dramedy) into one is enough to satisfy but as Colossal wheels into easy narrative tropes and character bromides, it’s easy to note that that is not the case.
CONCLUSION: ‘Colossal’ tells an old story with new dressings, to mixed results, failing to develop significant enough characters to drive it batty story of drunks somehow controlling giant kaijus. Though Anne Hathaway’s committed performance as a messy-mascaraed wash-up is a welcome play against expectation, the overall lack of narrative inventiveness drags ‘Colossal’ down.