Monster movies aren’t generally known for their subtlety, but leave it to Nacho Vigalondo to make one that keeps surprising its audience until the very end. The Timecrimes and Extraterrestrial director specializes in turning genre conventions inside out, and here he re-imagines the kaiju film as not only a dramedy about alcoholic losers looking to blame anyone but themselves for the mess they’ve made of their lives but also a deconstruction of romantic-comedy tropes, toxic masculinity, and the concept of the “nice guy.” Oh, and a giant robot and a giant monster get into a shoving match while the terrified citizens of Seoul watch helplessly.
Even stranger and more wonderful, the movie stars Anne Hathaway in an uncharacteristically messy role as Gloria, a once-successful writer whose partying has cost her a job, her boyfriend (Dan Stevens), and as a result, her apartment. With nowhere else to go, she moves back to her hometown and into her parents’ empty house with nothing but a suitcase and an air mattress. She soon reconnects with childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who hides his drinking problem somewhat better by virtue of owning a bar. Oscar offers Gloria a job, and the two spend their evenings getting sauced and getting into petty arguments. In a less creative movie, it would be the perfect setup for a redemptive romantic arc.
One complicating factor is the wave of giant monster attacks in South Korea that have the entire world glued to their TVs. No one knows where the giant, scaly, vaguely humanoid creature (which looks a lot more polished than the “infuriating” cheap rubber suit Vigalondo initially promised) came from, or where it goes after disappearing in a puff of smoke every night. But soon Gloria realizes, to her horror, that she seems to be controlling it. She traces the manifestations back to a particular playground she crosses every night on her way home from the bar, and shows her incredulous buddies her abilities, her drunken stumbling smashing buildings on the other side of the world. At this point, the metaphor seems entirely on the nose; one character even says the monster is “destroying everything in its path, but it never looks down.” But the film still has surprises in store.
Hathaway and Sudeikis are both clearly relishing playing against type as bickering jerks, which is good, because we spend a majority of the movie hanging out with them in the bar. Hathaway goes all in as Gloria, playing her as a damaged, deeply flawed, yet still sympathetic woman trying to outrun her own insecurities. And the smile on Sudeikis’ face grows increasingly strained as he slowly reveals the bitterness and entitlement hiding behind Oscar’s nice-guy persona. Oscar thinks the world—and Gloria in particular—owes him something for being so “nice,” and acts out in abusive, manipulative ways when he doesn’t get what he believes he deserves. Sound familiar?
While the magical realist conceit of Colossal may seem just a tad too hip for some viewers’ tastes—and those who come looking for kaiju action will be, for the most part, disappointed—there’s no denying that this film is an original. Come for the quirk, stay for the performances, and leave with just a bit more sympathy for your fellow human beings. Now that’s a clever trick.