With an ingenious premise, talented leads and a trailer that suggests something really unique and interesting, it is disappointing that Colossal fails to fully realise the potential of the scenario. Sure, in a time where there are very few original ideas emanating from Hollywood, it is very refreshing to see something like this to come along. However, originality alone is not enough and Spanish director Nacho Vigalondo needed to do more with the material to make this something truly memorable. The scenario certainly lends itself to laughs and the film has even been marketed as a sci-fi comedy, but anybody expecting to find themselves laughing uproariously will be disappointed as Vigalondo takes diminishing advantage of a premise that seems prime for satirical treatment, instead opting for a seriousness that belies the preposterousness of the situation in which our characters find themselves. Characters, it must be said, that we learn little about and who are not really likeable enough to secure an emotional investment in their plight. Whilst the digital canvas on which he gets to articulate his vision is much bigger here than in his previous films, Vigalondo seems unsure how to best use the freedom that a more substantial budget and higher profile cast affords him.
Following a brief prologue of a giant monster sighting in an unidentified Asian country, we meet Gloria (Anne Hathaway), a 30-something mess whose life consists of excessive drinking and not much else. Irresponsible and unemployed, Gloria is summarily booted from the New York apartment she shares with her condescending boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) after staggering home from yet another night on the town. Seemingly with no other options, Gloria returns to the childhood home that her parents have (somewhat conveniently) vacated and left empty. She soon happens upon Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a former school friend who offers her a job in the bar he inherited from his parents. Of course, Gloria working in a bar is a recipe for more drunken misadventure, but the problem is that Hathaway and/or her director seem reluctant to make her character appear too down and dirty, either in appearance or behaviour, forgoing an opportunity to present a far more grotesque lead character, such as the one that Hathaway delivered to great effect in Rachel’s Getting Married. Gloria certainly doesn’t present as the train wreck we are supposed to believe her to be and Hathaway always looks pristine, even when she wakes from a night spent on a park bench.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the large monster has suddenly reappeared and is wreaking havoc in Seoul. Gloria soon makes a connection that at first seems ridiculous but ultimately proves to be true. It is only when she is in the local playground at a specific time that the monster appears. Furthermore, the monster mimics Gloria’s every move, which at first she finds amusing, playing up to the worldwide television audience that is watching the events unfold. However, when she realises the potential consequences of her power – falling down drunk could result in the in the deaths of hundreds of Korean – she vows to sober up. A flashback explains how Gloria came to possess this ability and also sheds some light on the true nature of her relationship with Oscar as a child. Initially presenting as an amiable loser, jealousy transforms Oscar into a snake and it is certainly interesting to see Sudeikis take on such a reprehensible character, but we never get any insight into why Oscar behaves in such a way. The flashbacks suggest that maybe he has always been an arsehole, which makes it difficult to understand why Gloria was so willing to re-establish a friendship with him.
Of course, the whole thing can be interpreted as an allegory of American imperialism in Asia and elsewhere, with Gloria’s monster alter-ego representing the way in which the United States exerts itself onto other nations, often at great human cost. Such a reading actually makes for a more interesting viewing experience, but leaves you wishing this idea wasn’t explored further. Vigalondo uses the digital effects sparingly and the ending comes as both surprising and satisfying, which is not something that can be said for a lot of films these days. Whilst it is a pleasant diversion from the predictability that plagues so much Hollywood cinema, if more effort had gone into character development – Austin Stowell and Tim Blake Nelson feature in supporting roles that are ill-defined and ultimately so inconsequential that it feels as though quite a lot has been left on the cutting room floor – then Colossal may well have been something quite special.