The kaiju is a Japanese film genre which typically features giant monsters stomping around, smashing buildings, swatting aircraft, and fighting each other. The creatures, often referred to as kaiju themselves, have been exploited for decades upon decades by international and Hollywood filmmakers to the point where the genre has hit a wall despite recent attempts to reinvent the idea. In director Nacho Vigalondo’s COLOSSAL, things are not quite re-invented, but instead twisted and turned in a way that will make those all those decades of kaiju be seen in a new light.
Gloria (Anne Hathaway), is a hard-partying, talented yet unemployed writer, who after a night of binge-drinking is thrown out of her shared apartment by her (now ex) boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens). Returning to her childhood suburban home, she re-acquaints with former schoolmate Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) and continues drinking. On the other side of the world in Korea, a giant monster appears and causes death and destruction…and Gloria suddenly realizes she has a connection to it during a certain time of the day.
The central idea behind COLOSSAL is high-concept and asks us to buy into a lot. The existence of giant monsters is just the start of it, and buying into the connection between Grace and the kaiju also takes some getting used to. The connection between them is nearly like a puppet show; as Grace goes, the monster goes, right down to moods and physical movement. Things take a turn when a second monster appears in the form of a giant robot which can be controlled by Jason. COLOSSAL then turns dark, as Jason turns controlling and physically abusive towards Grace, and as they fight…the monsters fight.
The powdered-keg relationship between Grace and Jason is where COLOSSAL finds its needed grounding. Many of us may find it difficult to watch, but watching Grace go through stages of helplessness from verbal and physical abuse becomes the emotional root of the film, and the monsters become secondary. Director Nacho Vigalondo may be playing with heavy-handed themes here (we get it, the kaiju represent the monsters in us all), but it works, to both dramatic and comedic effect.
Vigalondo has a great balance of comedy and drama going on, as the battles between the characters (drama) are copied by the monsters (comedy). This is made better by the design of the kaiju which is funny and terrifying at the same time. The connection between the humans and the monsters is made believable by some sharp editing and clever uses of social media, and there is a fascination that hangs over the film as we wait for Grace to pull herself out of what she’s under and for an explanation to the mystical connection.
Anne Hathaway is fantastic; playing a troubled drunk going through a mid-life crisis and displaying a gift for physical comedy. Jason Sudeikis is also great, and becomes an effective screen-villain right in front of our eyes. The rest of the cast, which includes Dan Stevens, Tim Blake-Nelson, and Austin Stowell are all very good.
The best character in COLOSSAL is the one that never shows up. Every goddamn kaiju film always seems to have one old guy who is the only character who knows what is going on while the rest of the dumbasses lumber around. That old trope is thankfully avoided here, which leaves the characters to figure things out for themselves and actually perform work to get there. That helps separate COLOSSAL from the large pack of giant monster films, and the idea of humans controlling kaiju will make us view all those old movies a little differently. Driven by character and creativity, COLOSSAL is a brilliant take on an old idea.
BOTTOM LINE: See it