Nacho Vigalondo had the crazy idea to combine a kaiju movie with an indie dark comedy and it totally works. Colossal is way more clever and fun than Pacific Rim with far fewer visual effects shots. It goes to show that creativity can make the most of limitations, when throwing big robots and monsters at a movie falls flat.
Gloria (Anne Hathaway) returns home after being kicked out by her boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) for getting blackout drunk every night. Her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) gives her a job at his bar, which probably isn’t healthy for her. Maybe that’s still part of the dark comedy. Townies Joel (Austin Stowell) and Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) join in the enabling.
Meanwhile, in Seoul, Korea, a monster attacks the city and disappears. At first, Gloria sleeps through the news and wakes up late to the party, but she soon discovers that she is actually becoming the monster when she steps into a playground at 8:05AM.
Clearly, the monster is a metaphor for the damage one can do when getting blackout drunk. Yet it is also a sound mythology for dealing with a broken character on the path to recovery. It starts as a game, but then Gloria feels the consequences and makes valiant attempts to make it right.
The fights have a sense of parallel action. The things Gloria can do are limited, but she makes the most of her real life abilities to play the monster. Gloria’s innocuous tics pay off when the monster recreates them.
The monster fun plays into the character drama too. The self-destruction in which Gloria engages in real life is more damaging than the physical damage she does as a monster. Although perhaps the people of Korea would disagree. They’d let a random midwestern girl kill herself if it saved them billions of dollars in repairs and hundreds of lives not getting crushed.
But what Colossal deals with among the group of friends is more heartbreaking. Characters evolve in ways that make sense, but sympathetic characters turn dark. When friends betray each other, it hurts.
Perhaps Colossal’s biggest strength is that it never stops being about a recovering alcoholic. It’ll have all the fun it wants with giant monster battles, but it’s about Gloria and the roadblocks to her recovery, many of which, when she succumbs to them, are understandable which makes her overcoming them even more powerful.
It’s definitely Nacho Vigalondo’s most ambitious movie and it seems he’s worked everything out before filming so that this crazy journey all makes sense and pays off. That may be the biggest lesson Hollywood can learn from indies. Solve all your script questions ahead of time, then the movie is satisfying with or without visual effects.