Colossal has a terrific, almost irresistible metaphor at its core, and it’s really a shame the movie doesn’t much know what to do with it. Directed by Spanish filmmaker Nacho Vigalondo (Timecrimes, Extraterrestrial), Colossal attempts to juggle science fiction, a cracked rom-com, a monster movie, and an allegory about imperialistic hubris—an insane combination that would bedevil even the most militaristically disciplined of filmmakers. It’s like one of those dives that has such an insanely high degree of difficulty that you want to give it a better score than it deserves just because someone dared to try it in the first place. Still, you can’t help but notice that the diver cracked his head on the diving board and missed the pool entirely.
Colossal is the story of Gloria, played by Anne Hathaway in Rachel Getting Married, I-just-can’t-get-it-together! mode. Gloria may have an alcohol problem and definitely has a responsibility problem, so we open with her being kicked out of her fancy New York City apartment by her ultra-serious, fed-up-with-it boyfriend (Dan Stevens). Dejected and broke, she heads back to her small hometown, where she moves into her (handily empty) childhood home to … well, Gloria never has much of a plan.
One night, after drinking with a bar owner named Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) who had a crush on her when they were kids, she falls asleep in a local park and wakes up to the news that a Godzilla-esque monster has attacked South Korea. Through a series of convenient coincidences, she discovers that, somehow, she is the monster, and can control it, but only when she’s in that park and only at specific times of the day. Then they discover that when Oscar is in the park, he shows up in South Korea in the form of a massive robot. There’s just a lot of stuff happening in that park.
This leads us into a series of increasingly complicated situations between Gloria and Oscar, who have this obvious connection but have no idea why and, curiously, don’t seem particularly compelled to find out. They’re both caught up in their own little dramas. Gloria begins to see her time back home as a way to get her life back together, but Oscar both envies and resents that she escaped in the first place; in a way, learning of his new power is the only thing that’s ever made him feel important in his life.
Plus, he’s in love with Gloria, or at least obsessed with her, so it doesn’t go over well when Gloria decides to have a fling with Oscar’s dim-witted drinking partner Joel (Austin Stowell). Now that you mention it, he’s got a drinking problem himself, which causes all sorts of trouble when he gets to hanging around that park. Are these two kids ever gonna figure all this mess out?
If all that sounds like a ton of exposition that ignores the fact that every time these two losers get drunk, they end up trampling buildings and killing innocent people all around Seoul, well, I’m sad to say the movie isn’t really a step ahead of you on that. The movie takes the plight of Gloria and Oscar strangely seriously, as if the banalities of their lives are the A-story here, rather than the bizarreness of their monster alter egos or the deaths of millions of Koreans.
Perhaps this is meant to convey American imperialistic attitudes in a nutshell. Two dopey spoiled overgrown white kids who don’t really understand the outside world are so caught up in themselves that they don’t even notice that they’re stomping all over the rest of the planet. The movie touches on this, but only briefly, and only in the context of Gloria’s character: The plight of millions of Koreans is less a global catastrophe than a reason for Gloria to finally straighten up her life, which, you know, great for her, but c’mon. You keep wanting the film to run with the metaphor, to have these two jerks run obliviously rampant until they are called out for their selfishness, but it never does. It really seems to think their story is interesting, against all reason.
Thus, the movie, in its own way, devolves into an extended robot vs. monster battle sequence, in which Gloria and Oscar’s condition is “explained” and they end up fighting each other to save both South Korea and Gloria’s soul, I guess. Hathaway does a convincing job of showing Gloria’s growth as the film goes along, even as you wonder why her growth is such a big deal in the first place. But Sudeikis, a talented guy in need of the perfect crossover role he still hasn’t found, is a bit adrift. His character tends to float wherever the plot needs him to travel, and by the end, he’s less a human being than a sniveling Cartoonishly Evil Guy.
Watching Colossal, you can’t help admiring Vigolondo’s central idea of taking traditional rom-com principles and turning then into something strange and scary and a little mean … and then noting just how far he strayed from that idea in the finished product. Had Colossal the courage of its own convictions, this could have been a daring and urgent movie. Instead, I ended up wishing that this was the sort of monster movie you could reboot immediately. There could be greatness here. It just needs a do-over.
Grierson & Leitch write about the movies regularly for the New Republic and host a podcast on film. Follow them on Twitter or visit their site