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Review: Colossal (2017)

Colossal (2017)

Directed by: Nacho Vigalondo

Premise: A gigantic monster attacks Seoul, South Korea. A functional alcoholic (Anne Hathaway) who has recently returned to her hometown discovers that she is connected to the monster and can control its movements.

What Works: Colossal is a unique fantasy movie. Unlike a lot of these kinds of pictures, which tend to be driven by special effects, Colossal is focused on its characters and the movie is an effective mix of intimate and large scale action. The film introduces Gloria, played by Anne Hathaway, a young woman who intends to be a writer but spends most of her time living a boozy socialite lifestyle in New York City. Her upstanding boyfriend throws her out and Gloria returns to her suburban hometown where she meets childhood friend Oscar, played by Jason Sudekis. Oscar runs a bar and he offers her a waitressing job. While Gloria gets her life together, a giant bipedal monster appears in Seoul, South Korea and Gloria eventually comes to realize that the monster is controlled by her actions. The creature is joined by a giant robot and it’s revealed that the robot is controlled by Oscar. The mechanism here is fairly obvious; the monsters are a manifestation of the way Gloria and Oscar have trampled through people’s lives and they have to learn to take responsibility for their actions. But while Gloria begins to curb her drinking and rehabilitate herself, Oscar is corrupted by the power he now possesses and he lashes out at Gloria and at the world. Despite its wacky premise, there is a lot of great and smart things happening in Colossal, not the least of which are the performances by Anne Hathaway and Jason Sudekis. Hathaway brings a believable humanity to Gloria; at the start of the picture she is an irresponsible person but rather than being obnoxious Gloria is a pitiable figure. The movie evades clichés in Gloria’s rehabilitation and she is a full character who learns to put other people’s needs before her own. Equally impressive is Jason Sudekis as Oscar; he is initially presented as a good guy but he is gradually revealed to be something else and the way the script and the actor reveal the malevolence in Oscar’s soul is quite frightening. In that respect, the central conflict of Colossal takes on a few meanings and the movie is able to play with the expectations of its genre. In a typical monster movie, the point is the sequences of mass destruction in which giant creatures knock over landmarks and trample on human lives all in the name of Hollywood spectacle. What is fascinating about Colossal is the way it tries to avoid that conflict and makes the audience dread it; there is impressive dramatic impact by the simple image of Oscar stomping his sneakers into the sand. The corruption of Oscar takes on some additional meaning as well. He’s presented as a complex and nuanced character and this is one of the prime examples of the post-empire, disillusioned, middle class white male who feels marginalized and lashes out. In that respect, Colossal is a great example of what sci-fi and fantasy can do: visualize an abstract concept and turn it into entertaining drama.

What Doesn’t: Colossal is a modestly budgeted film and the quality of the special effects are inconsistent. Some of them are quite good but other effects shots don’t have quite the detail and texture of the movies that Colossal is competing with like the Transformers series or Kong: Skull Island. Of course, the point of Colossal isn’t really found in the monster fights; it’s about the interpersonal relationship between Hathaway and Sudekis’ characters. But as a result, some viewers may be put off by Colossal because it doesn’t provide enough of the monster mash action of kaiju films like Godzilla.

DVD extras: Deleted scene.

Bottom Line: Colossal is a terrific fantasy film. It has great performances and compelling drama but it also manages to do something really smart and unique and offers a lot of fascinating ideas to contemplate.

Episode: #663 (September 3, 2017)