Film Review: ‘Colossal’

Anne Hathaway's emotional problems have a "Colossal" impact in Nacho Vigalondo's comic fantasy.

Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson, Dan Stevens.

Official Site: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt4680182/

Spaniard Nacho Vigalondo’s first two features, “Timecrimes” and “Extaterrestrial,” were notable for ingeniously containing fantastical concepts within very small-scale, low-budget-friendly narrative limits. With “Colossal,” he actually gets to visualize the more outlandish aspects of a new fantasy tale via the digital effects and crowd scenes that normally come with the territory — whether it be time travel, alien invasion, or (in this case) giant monsters battling it out atop a cityscape.

But if the physical canvas has gotten bigger here, the writer-director’s imagination is otherwise in somewhat reduced form. “Colossal” takes diminishing advantage of an amusing premise, one that seems made for satirical treatment yet is executed with an increasingly awkward semi-seriousness the characters aren’t depthed (or likable) enough to ballast. Anne Hathaway’s top billing will make this a bigger commercial prospect than Vigalondo has enjoyed abroad previously. In the end, however, his conceptually eccentric enterprise may be too idiosyncratic for mainstream audiences, yet not enough for arthouses.

After a brief prologue suggesting a giant-monster sighting in the Far East a quarter-century ago, we’re introduced to the more humdrum catastrophe that is Gloria (Hathaway) as she drags herself in at dawn from another night of reckless partying. Fed up with her excuses, excessive drinking, lack of employment (since she blew her last job a year ago) and other faults she refuses to address, British boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) evicts her from his life and Manhattan apartment until she gets her act together.

Having presumably burnt all other bridges, Gloria heads shamefacedly back to a conveniently empty family home in the small town she’d left as a child. There she promptly runs into grade-school chum Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who’s clearly been holding a torch for her despite a complete lack of contact over the interim 25 years. He kindly offers a waitressing job at the local bar he inherited from his parents, and where he seems to spend most of his time hanging with best buds Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and Joel (Austin Stowell).

As these minor personal dramas go on, however, the world’s attention is riveted to something major: On the other side of the world, a towering scaly monster has mysteriously reappeared after many years in Seoul, where it wreaks Godzilla-style havoc. Glued to the resulting news footage like everyone else, Gloria soon makes a connection that at first seems preposterous: When she makes any particular moves on a local playground at an early-morning hour, the monster duplicates them. In fact, it seems to be precisely following her lead.

This seems like the greatest party trick ever until she realizes that falling down in a drunken stupor under these circumstances can result in hundreds of dead South Koreans. She determines to sober up and spare further innocent lives. Unfortunately, by then Oscar has realized he also has the same baffling ability (materializing in Seoul as a giant robot), and his increasingly possessive attitude towards Gloria gives her little choice but bend to his emotional blackmail — lest there be more inebriated hijinks and a lot more dead Koreans.

It would seem built into this outré premise that these immature people think the world revolves around their petty emotional conflicts — and that the way in which it actually, disastrously does might be taken as a metaphor for Americans’ often heavy international footprint. But those themes and their rich satirical potential are left entirely undeveloped here. Instead, perversely, Vigalondo takes matters more earnestly even as Oscar reveals himself as a bigger jerk than hapless but essentially harmless Gloria could ever be.

Neither of them are much worth rooting for, so “Colossal” becomes a movie about small people whose messy personal “issues” create preposterously huge collateral damage. That’s something that ought to get funnier as it goes along, but despite a relatively satisfying resolution, “Colossal” instead milks diminishing humor from an inherently absurd conceit.

As she already once played a memorable monster of sorts herself in “Rachel Getting Married,” one might look forward to perpetual ingenue Hathaway re-inhabiting trainwreck territory. But both Hathaway and her director seem afraid to make her character get (or look) too down ‘n’ dirty, missing their opportunity for a more grotesquely funny lead. Likewise, Sudeikis is fine, but if Vigalondo was determined to turn the initially amiable Oscar into a snake, he and the actor ought to have taken the figure’s darkness yea farther. Stevens, Stowell, and particularly Nelson have their resources under-tapped here.

Though most of its progress takes place in the generic small-town setting (filmed in British Columbia), “Colossal” doesn’t stint on the Seoul-shot death and destruction — scenes which are glimpsed with teasing brevity until a climactic effects blowout. Paying homage to classic Japanese tokusatsu cinema, this material is fun; it’s on the human-scaled plane that “Colossal” fails to realize its full potential, finally coming off as slick stretch of a joke that needn’t have played quite so thinly.

Popular on Variety

Film Review: 'Colossal'

Reviewed at Toronto Film Festival (Vanguard), Sept. 15, 2016. (Also in Fantastic Fest, San Sebastian, Sitges film festivals.) Running time: 109 MIN.

Production: (Canada) A Brightlight Pictures production. (International sales: Voltage Pictures, Los Angeles.) Producers: Nahikari Ipiña, Nicolas Chartier, Zev Foreman, Dominic Rustam, Russell Levine, Shawn Williamson. Executive producers: Jonathan Deckter, Justin Bursch, Garrett Basch, Nacho Vigalondo, Chris Lytton, Lee Jea Woo, Choi Pyung Ho.

Crew: Director, writer: Nacho Vigalondo. Camera (color, widescreen, HD): Eric Kress. Editors: Luke Doolan, Ben Baudhuin.

With: Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson, Dan Stevens.

More Film

  • Bruce Springsteen FYSEE Opening Night with

    Bruce Springsteen Drops Introspective Trailer for 'Western Stars' Film

    While initial reports about Bruce Springsteen’s forthcoming documentary around his recent “Western Stars” album said that it would essentially be a concert film, the first trailer for it, which dropped today, suggests it’s going to be a more introspective outing, more in line with his autobiographical performances at “Springsteen on Broadway” in 2017 and 2018, [...]

  • Phyllis Nagy

    Writers Guild Presidential Candidate Phyllis Nagy Blasts Strategy on Agencies

    Phyllis Nagy, who is challenging Writers Guild of America West’s president David Goodman, has warned of dire consequences from the current stalemate between the WGA and Hollywood agents. Nagy, who announced her candidacy on July 22 as the head of Writers for Negotiation, is running on a platform that the WGA needs to get back to [...]

  • Chris Pine to Play Nixon Attorney

    Chris Pine to Play Nixon Lawyer John Dean in Amazon Studios Feature Pitch (EXCLUSIVE)

    Amazon Studios has nabbed a feature pitch with “Wonder Woman” star Chris Pine attached to play John Dean, a pivotal figure in the Watergate scandal. The film will follow the life and political saga of Dean, who served as White House counsel for President Richard Nixon from July 1970 through April 1973. Amazon bought the [...]

  • 'Bombay Rose,' Venice Premiere, Debuts Trailer

    'Bombay Rose,' Venice Film Festival Premiere, Debuts Trailer (EXCLUSIVE)

    Variety has been given exclusive access to the trailer for animated film “Bombay Rose,” which will have its world premiere opening Venice Critics’ Week on Aug. 28. The film, written and directed by Gitanjali Rao, will also play in the Contemporary World Cinema strand at the Toronto Film Festival on Sept. 7. “Bombay Rose” is [...]

  • Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu speaks during a

    Alejandro G. Inarritu on the Need to Preserve Poetry in Cinema

    Alejandro G. Iñárritu is urging the film industry to guard against the influence of television storytelling in cinema, a looming crisis he said could strip film of the beauty and poetry that make it a unique artistic form of expression. Attending the Sarajevo Film Festival to receive the Honorary Heart of Sarajevo award, the Oscar-winning [...]

  • Levan Akin on the Impact of

    Levan Akin on the Impact of ‘And Then We Danced’

    Georgian-Swedish filmmaker Levan Akin is already enjoying success with “And Then We Danced,” his acclaimed social drama about a young dancer struggling with the confines of tradition and forbidden love. The film, which premiered in Directors’ Fortnight in Cannes, went on to win three top awards at the Odessa Film Festival, including best film and [...]

  • Brian Oliver'Black Mass' Premiere, Toronto International

    'Rocketman' Producer Developing Comedy 'Inward Bound' (EXCLUSIVE)

    Brian Oliver’s New Republic Pictures, the company that co-financed and produced “Rocketman,” is developing a female ensemble comedy “Inward Bound.” The announcement comes on the heels of Universal’s “Good Boys” becoming the first R-rated comedy to open in first place at the North American box office  in three years, as well as the biggest opening [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content