Right now I would like to take the time to thank Legendary for bringing back the monster movie. There’s something so satisfying about watching something so massive just destroy everything in its path. Yeah, there’s a plot in there somewhere, but let’s face it you’ve paid your money to watch the giant lizard stomp on skyscrapers. But because they have now truly returned and are now mainstays in the cinema again, it’s time for some more creative types to use the genre to tell completely different stories. That’s exactly what Colossal does but is its risky attempt at a monster movie worth your time?
After Gloria (Anne Hathaway, Les Miserables) is dumped by her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens, Downton Abbey), she heads back to her hometown so she can rebuild her life. However, it’s made even weirder when she discovers that the giant monster that has been in the news after destroying part of Seoul is actually being controlled by her.
We have to get some of the advertising woes this film had out of the way first. If you saw the trailers and adverts for this movie, you’d be expecting a fun knockabout comedy where a kooky girl ends up controlling a giant monster. It’s what sold me on this movie and made me head to the cinema to watch it a few months ago. After all, monsters destroying cities are absolutely hilarious. But if you were wanting that sort of movie, you will be severely disappointed. While this movie does have funny moments, it is not a comedy and is instead a movie which tackles some incredibly serious themes such as guilt, alcoholism, and domestic violence. So yeah, if you were hoping for Hathaway to get embarrassed and shrug to the camera when she accidentally stands on a cat, it isn’t that sort of film. So let’s get that out of our minds straight away.
Because Colossal is something I absolutely adore, a film that uses a high concept idea as a metaphor that is incredibly down to earth. You’ll remember me lavishing praise on A Monster Calls for doing exactly this not so long ago. So what does this film use its giant monster to represent? Well, alcoholism. While it’s never explicitly said, Gloria is an alcoholic, someone who can’t stop partying and drinking and that is the reason her relationship with Tim ends at the start of the movie. It’s actually rather smart and works quite well, with the idea that alcoholism hurts the people you love even if you don’t realize it well played out by the monster wiping out parts of Seoul. While it might sound crazy in theory, it actually works out really well in practice.
However, this metaphor gets really confused in the second half of the movie. I can’t reveal too much without going into spoiler territory, but there is a rushed character change which results in there being a second monster in Seoul that is much more malicious about the destruction they could cause. That’s when the metaphor isn’t quite sure what’s trying to do, possibly because the movie wanted a more obvious conflict to take place. Here the movie’s metaphor morphs into something more like domestic violence, with this character using the guilt of having the destruction of Seoul on their mind in order to do what he wants. This is well enough executed, but because the movie confuses two separate messages, it can’t fully deliver on any of them which lets the whole thing down hugely.
Also, let’s discuss that character change for a bit. Again, I can’t go into too many details due to spoilers but this is another issue with the film that stops it from being as good as it could have been. For the most of the film., this character is rather lovely and someone you’d like to spend lots of time with, so you are happy with the fact the movie does focus a lot on him. While there are glimpses of him being a bit meaner, there’s nothing to suggest he isn’t a great person. But then the film decides about halfway through that he is a nasty piece of work and should be the villain of the piece. I’m sure the director Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes) will point to those earlier moments when he was a bit curt, but that’s not enough to make the sudden character change jarring.
But even with these issues, Colossal still has a lot to like about it. The film is very powerful at times even though the messages are confusing, and that’s down to some great performances from Hathaway, her best display since Les Miserables, as well as Jason Sudeikis (We’re The Millers) as bar owner Oscar who shows that he can do more than comedy. The performances from these two, as well as the ones from a good supporting cast, really do enhance this movie and sell the ideas of this film much more than the cluttered script ends up doing. And also for a movie that’s budget was only £15m, the CGI for the monsters are really impressive. Seriously, they look great for a film that has a tenth of the budget of one of the big studios’ monster flicks, it’s really impressive work.
You don’t get many movies that use such a high concept idea to explain down to ground ideas so when one does get released, I have really high expectations. That’s why I can’t help but be disappointed with Colossal. When you had A Monster Calls earlier in the year use their own monster to be able to hurt you so much with how it explained what grief is to a young audience, seeing a film primarily aimed at adults try and do too many messages and so not being able to deliver one properly is a shame. Colossal is still pretty decent as it has a few scenes which really work and some great performances, but that’s not enough to make up for its unfulfilled potential.