With the recent revivals of the King Kong and Godzilla franchises, along with reinterpretations like “Pacific Rim” and its upcoming sequel, it’s safe to say that the giant monster genre is making a comeback as big and surprising as the monsters themselves, though none of these new monster movies are truly original.
Not that they haven’t each put their particular spin on the genre, changing up the classics or creating new monsters, but none have strayed from the mold of “giant monster terrorizes humans and maybe something fights it.” That’s where up-and-coming Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo’s “Colossal” comes in, making a giant monster a little more human. Literally.
“Colossal” stars Anne Hathaway as Gloria, a typical New Yorker with a bit of a drinking and partying problem. Her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) kicks her out, and she is forced to return to her old home in the small town of Maidenhead, where she reconnects with her old friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) and gets a new job at Oscar’s bar.
Meanwhile, a series of giant monster appearances in Seoul, South Korea leave the world aghast — not just because the monster seems to appear and disappear out of thin air, but because it only shows up in one specific spot, and always shows up and leaves at the exact same times every day. What comes as more of a shock to Gloria and company is that she’s somehow controlling the monster, almost like they’re both connected — if she raises her hand, the monster raises its own, and so forth. Gloria and her friends must try to discover what exactly is the deal between her and this giant monster before anything else gets destroyed. And with Gloria’s tendency to go on absolute benders, that’s more than likely.
While “Colossal’s” Gloria-centric plot may sound boring at first, it is anything but. Sure, most of the movie’s focus is on Gloria having to return home and re-adapt to Maidenhead and its people, but surprisingly that’s where all the drama lies. Gloria’s life in Maidenhead turns out to be extremely crucial to not only understanding why she’s connected to this giant monster, but also what she’ll do about it — “it” meaning the fact that she even causes South Korea to consider a nuclear option if the monster doesn’t stop wrecking buildings in the financial district.
Gloria’s growth from a party-hard millennial stereotype to someone who’s very much in control of her life will be something audiences will cheer for. She doesn’t lose her charm, however, as she becomes more confident, especially as she overcomes the film’s major antagonist, whose identity will be kept a secret, since everything about this character is “Colossal’s” greatest spoiler. While the monster isn’t an outright metaphor for Gloria’s lack of self-control over her worst habits, it’s interesting to see just how she deals with her problems and how it parallels the way she solves what to do with the monster.
Aside from its main characters, “Colossal’s” other major strength is its indie-like atmosphere, to which the monster doesn’t take a backseat because it’s a part of it. “Colossal” deals with the issue of a monster appearing out of nowhere in 2017 in exactly the way it would be dealt with: the monster becomes an internet sensation, with the people of Seoul setting up a livestream to track it, while the inhabitants of Maidenhead look on from a jumbo screen at the local bar. The world stops, but only for the 15 minutes or so that the monster appears, and then life resumes for Gloria, Oscar and everyone else. In that sense, “Colossal” can even be seen as a critique on internet culture regarding world crises disguised as an affectionate parody of the Kaiju movie genre. If it weren’t for the creature, this would be indistinguishable from a major Sundance film.
No matter how you interpret it, “Colossal” is a welcome surprise. It brings the best elements of a typical, brainy, sepia-filter indie flick and throws it into a world where giant monsters are not just possible and plausible, but practically usual. It’s a film about taking control of your life and measuring just how it affects others, a theme that just happens to be presented in the form of a hundred-foot monster.