MOVIE REVIEW: Colossal
“COLOSSAL”-- 4 STARS
In her 2008 fantasy book “Graceling,” author Kristin Cashore posed the questions “When a monster stopped behaving like a monster, did it stop being a monster? Did it become something else?” Mix that with Friedrich Nitchske’s classic line of “Who fights with monsters should be careful lest he thereby become a monster” and you have the simmering soup base for Nacho Vigalondo’s “Colossal.” Wholly original and downright weird on many fronts, “Colossal” is the most eccentric monster movie you may ever see.
Academy Award winner Anne Hathaway sheds a few layers of her Hollywood glamour to play the partygirl mess Gloria. She’s an unemployed New York City website writer leaching booze, pitied affection, and money from her successful and frustrated British boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens of “Beauty and the Beast”). He finally puts his foot down to kick her and her alcoholic ways out of their swanky shared apartment.
With nowhere else to go, Gloria limps back to her old hometown in upstate New York. As one of the few townies to “make it out” and go on to a career in the big city, she is recognized and welcomed by Oscar, played by Jason Sudeikis. He’s an old friend and classmate who took over his father’s bar, never settled down, and never left town. Oscar helps Gloria get settled and gives her a job at the bar when shocking news breaks on the other side of the world.
An enormous monster materializes and disappears at the same time and place each day in Seoul, South Korea to mindlessly stomp its way through the city. News of these cataclysmic events have gripped the world and boosted business at Oscar’s tavern. Like many, Gloria is anxiously enthralled by the news coverage of the destruction, so much so that she begins to notice odd behavioral similarities between herself and the creature in Korea. Could they be connected or is all the alcohol going to her head?
The trailers give you more hints, but I will not. Part of the sheer delight of “Colossal” is witnessing the unexpected. Avoid the marketing. Know that you’ve got one part high fantasy concept mixed with one part boozy small-town romantic comedy, and go in blind. Let the imaginativeness of Nacho Vigalondo’s wild premise take over. The film is unabashedly non-mainstream, which helps far more than hurts it.
“Colossal” is not afraid to take chances and it starts with the leads. Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis were afforded the freedom to step out of their comfort zones and commit to the zaniness. It’s a little hard not to still see the gleaming Hathaway underneath her mousy bangs and unflattering wardrobe (clearly hiding a Strong Female Character t-shirt), but she completely sells Gloria’s nervous frazzle with humor and resolve to spare. Locked together, this is the best and most complete screen performance yet from her former "Saturday Night Live" cast member co-star. Sudeikis brilliantly steers his quippy Everyman modus operandi into more focused and darker directions than we have ever seen from him before.
Vigalondo smartly dangles hints and clues towards possible origins and reasons for being in small morsels across the length of its 110-minute running time. Not a shred of it is plausible, but that’s the fascinating point, joy, and fun of science fiction. Even with some of its inherent confusion and discombobulation, who or what are the monster or monsters really are in “Colossal” matters more than a dozen other creature features.
To come right out and say it, this is more than a monster movie, and you will relish seeing why. To that degree, so little about “Colossal” is conventional, an appealing and commendable trait in today’s movie landscape. Satire and dark comedy do more damage than any kaiju stomping cities. Vigalondo and company are aiming for creative perversion and subversion of multiple genres. Peculiarity rules over spectacle with minimal loss of entertainment.
LESSON #1: IF A GIANT MONSTER KEEPS COMING TO YOUR TOWN FOR DESTRUCTION, IT’S TIME TO MOVE-- In cheesy homage fashion to the likes of “Godzilla,” “Colossal” has more than its fair (and unfair) share of pointing-and-screaming Asians running away from a monster playing mosh pit with skyscrapers. I get being completely overwhelmed and surprised the first time, but if the monster keeps coming back to smash and bash, why on Earth would you stay? Homes and livelihoods can be replaced. Your actual life cannot. Pick up the family and leave before you become a sad casualty statistic.
LESSON #2: YOU’RE ONLY A MONSTER IF YOU ACT LIKE A MONSTER-- Monsters get called that name because they do monstrous things, like destroying cities on a large scale or treating people horribly on a smaller scale. "Colossal" muses on both scales. All monsters don’t look the part, but reveal themselves when they act the part.
LESSON #3: YOU’RE ONLY A MONSTER IF YOU CHOOSE TO ACT LIKE ONE-- This final lesson circles all the way back to that opening Cashore quote. It’s all about choices and consequences. Self-destructive issues on the inside are projected as heinous behaviors and actions on the outside. A whole bunch of that is at the heart of “Colossal.” Monsters, in their many shapes and forms, can be victims requiring help. Sure, but the primary and strongest entity that can fix a monster is themselves. Take "The Iron Giant" and "The Incredible Hulk" as examples. When they can fight the urges, they make character decisions to become something else other than a monster.