You wake up with your mouth dry, rubble and dust choking the inside of your brain. You’re not even sure where you are, or why you’re there, and then the pieces come together in a panicky rush - you were out drinking last night, and you got loaded, and you don’t remember what happened at all. Your memory stops at a certain moment and after that there are vague impressions, some that line up with the bruises and cuts on your body, and others that feel like half-remembered snippets of an impressionistic art film. You’re afraid to talk to your friends and find out what you said, and forget about checking your outgoing texts (you knew you should have deleted all your ex’s numbers). What did you do? What did you destroy? How did you fuck up your own life?
This is one of the metaphors made literal in Nacho Vigalondo’s brilliant, thrilling and insightful Colossal. In the movie Anne Hathaway is Gloria, a blogger whose party lifestyle and binge drinking tear her life apart; dumped and unemployed she retreats to the small town from which she escaped a decade ago and discovers a bizarre secret: at 8:05 every morning when she is standing in just the right section of the local playground she manifests a giant kaiju in the streets of Seoul, South Korea. And she doesn’t discover this because she’s up early exercising - she discovers it when stumbling home from a night of after hours drinking, and she learns that in her bleary state she caused billions of dollars in damage and killed hundreds, if not thousands.
Early reviews focused on this, but blackout drinking isn’t the only thing on Vigalondo’s mind here. What Vigalondo is really interested in is male entitlement, in nice guys who are actually monsters and in the way internet trolling works. See, when Gloria returns to town she runs into Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who has known her since grade school. He gives her a job at his bar, and he keeps buying her things, being just the nicest guy you could ever hope to meet. But when she’s not into Oscar things start to get ugly, and he gets mad, and he gets violent.
Oh, and by the way: Oscar is the only other person who can do what Gloria does. Except that he steps into the park he manifests a giant mecha in Seoul. And unlike Gloria he doesn’t care what damage he causes. See, those people are far away and not real to him, much like people on the other side of a computer screen are not real to the Gamergaters who harass and dox them. And if Gloria won’t love Oscar he has no compunction against wreaking some havoc on Seoul in revenge.
Hathaway is pretty incredible in Colossal; she’s playing a burnt-out fuck-up with real conviction and honesty, but her innate charm allows us to root for her, even after she wakes up and watches a news report about the disaster she caused the night before. Sudeikis, meanwhile, is giving a performance unlike any I have ever seen from him - he nails the “m’lady” nice guy thing AND the transformation into vindictive monster (or maybe it’s revelation, not quite transformation) with sleazy perfection.
Vigalondo’s script gives both actors a lot to work with; the filmmaker’s natural mode is empathy, and even the terrible Oscar has humanity. It never excuses him, but at the same time Vigalondo doesn’t use his pathetic nature - his failed career, his filthy house - as a punchline. He’s sad, and the way he’s dealing with his sadness is terrible. Gloria is sad, and the way that she deals with her sadness is… well, troubling at first but eventually we watch as she starts to get her shit together and overcome.
And we haven’t even discussed the kaiju. Colossal operates largely as a deconstruction of a certain kind of romcom trope, but it’s also a pretty legit kaiju movie. Vigalondo has given a lot of thought to this world, and the way that people react to the giant monster and the giant robot feels not only realistic but in line with his larger allegorical concerns. What’s more, the monster and the robot are COOL, and their battles are fun. Because the kaiju projection does whatever the people in the park do, the tussles are mapped to physical confrontations between Gloria and Oscar, and that allows Vigalondo to have a little bit of fun with how man in suit battles play out - we all know that we’re watching Godzilla slapping Mechagodzilla, not quite punching it, and that’s how it works in Colossal too.
Colossal reminds me of Vigalondo’s last large scale film, Extraterrestrial. I quite liked that movie for what it attempted - like Colossal it’s a film whose emotional metaphors are made literal in scifi tropes. But where Extraterrestrial wasn’t always successful, Colossal is a totally assured work that is tightly tuned from the script all the way up to the acting. Vigalondo is at the top of his game, adeptly juggling a lot of ideas while still making a movie that is funny and fun. It’s inspiring to watch as he comments on modern society while poking fun at romcoms while lovingly embracing giant monster movies while being emotionally honest and raw, all at once. Colossal is a giant, thundering success.