Ignacio “Nacho” Vigalondo’s Colossal could be seen as a metaphor for several things:
- substance abuse
- female suppression and empowerment
- drone warfare
- internet trolling
“While the monster is certainly a person in a suit, having something physically ripping up miniature buildings is so much enjoyable to seeing another round of CGI…”
Thankfully, all the symbolism is in the service of a story as clever as it is outlandish.
The Spanish-born Vigalondo creates a Frankenstein creature of a storyline, grafting quirky comedy to Asian monster movie tropes, resulting in a movie that’s a lot more fun and thoughtful than kaiju movies get credit for being.
For one thing, Colossal doesn’t even start out as a monster flick. Actually, it does. Before the credits roll, a Korean mother and daughter (Sarah Surh and Haeun Hannah Cho) discover a giant, menacing critter that looks like a cross between a lizard and a walking stick.
Before we can make sense of the situation, we discover that a New Yorker named Gloria (Anne Hathaway) is making her way through a series of lost weekends that have continued throughout the week. She’s been out of work for a year, and her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens, Beauty and the Best) is tired of supporting her drinking habits. Gloria, a once promising writer, may have picked up on Hemingway and Fitzgerald’s alcohol habits but hasn’t produced much in between shots.
Believe it or not, the two situations set half the world away and a quarter century apart, are related.
Broke and with little to occupy her, Gloria returns to the small town where she grew up. She’s staying in her parents’ empty home, so she has to sleep on an air mattress. Before she can get too morose about her status, her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) offers her a job at the bar he inherited from his late parents and gives her some furniture.
It’s safe to expect some trouble from this arrangement (the last thing she needs is more alcohol), but the looming disaster is more than simply Gloria staggering her way through life. Shortly after Gloria’s arrival, a monster like the one that scared the mother and daughter has returned to Seoul and is tearing up anything in its path.
In her inebriated state, Gloria discovers that under a specific set of circumstances, she and the enormous bug man might be connected. When the right (or wrong if you live in Seoul) circumstances occur at the same time, the residents of South Korea’s capital city have reason to be terrified of a menace that’s more immediately destructive than Kim Jong-un’s military.
Vigolondo carefully sets up the rules for why and when a kaiju might show up in Seoul unannounced, but he forces the audience to discover the secrets with Gloria. As a result, her struggle to stay sober and to figure out if she and the Seoul stomper are linked becomes more involving and at times downright hilarious.
“…we’re all in this small blue ball together without limiting his imagination to the confines of Earth’s atmosphere.”
There’s something chilling about how flatly Oscar describes the massive property destruction happening across the globe. Even monster rampages begin to look routine though the filter of cable news.
This detached tone is just right for the material. So many recent monster movies like the recent Godzilla reboot have been so overbearingly serious that a knowing irony is a welcome break from the gloom.
Vigolondo thankfully avoids a lot of the tropes that are standard issue with most monster movies. There is no curiously available scientist to explain the monster and why it has chosen to go on destructive strolls through one of the most densely populated areas of the world.
While the monster is certainly a person in a suit, having something physically ripping up miniature buildings is so much enjoyable to seeing another round of CGI. It’s also great to see Seoul itself in the movie. Tokyo has already suffered enough, and Seoul’s skyline is scenic enough for monster backdrop.
It’s refreshing to see Hathaway playing someone who is a little out her element but who seems just smart and compassionate enough to merit redemption. While she meets a cute friend of Oscar’s named Joel (Austin Stowell), it’s Gloria’s job to learn how to live without booze or giant insects in her life. She doesn’t really need the guys to get her through her unique predicament.
Colossal also offers Sudeikis his juiciest big screen role to date. Oscar can seem generous and amiable at one moment and inexplicably petty and vindictive the next. Unlike a lot of other former sketch comics, the Saturday Night Live veteran demonstrates a range that’s comparable to his leading lady, and it’s a pleasant surprise to see that he can be both menacing and buffoonish, even in the same scene.
Vigolondo reminds viewers that their actions can affect people who will never meet them and who seem to be living in another galaxy. He knows how to say we’re all in this small blue ball together without limiting his imagination to the confines of Earth’s atmosphere.
Colossal (2017) Directed by Nacho Vigalondo Written by Nacho Vigalondo. Starring: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Austin Stowell, Dan Stevens, Tim Blake Nelson
8 out of 10
More information can be found on the official Colossal website.