Tue. May 30th, 2023

Colossal, a modern take on Kaiju movies starring Anne Hathaway, is officially released in the US starting today (7/7/17). Ars was lucky enough to catch the movie early during last fall’s genre-focused Fantastic Fest 2016, and we’re resurfacing our review (which originally ran 10/1/16) accordingly.

Warning: This review contains minor spoilers for Colossal. “Kaiju” refers to a Japanese film genre that usually involves giant monsters destroying cities (think godzilla or Pacific).

AUSTIN, Texas—The Movie Colossal does not currently have a publicly available trailer, let alone a release date. But it aired earlier this month at the Toronto International Film Festival, sparking hurried whispers of “Anne Hathaway’s kaiju movie” under #FilmInternet. Those four words were all the foreknowledge I had when the title hit this week’s genre-focused Fantastic Fest for its US premiere.

Now that I’ve seen it, I can now confirm: Anne Hathaway appears in this movie, just like a Kaiju monster. But pitching Colossal as Hathaway takes on the role of Bryan Cranston in the most recent godzilla sells the latest work by writer/director Nacho Vigalondo so, so short. Instead of, Colossal turns out to be an incredibly fun mishmash of established genres with two extremely accessible characters at its core. Over the course of 110 minutes, things shift smoothly between romcom and monster movie, dark horror and arthouse indie. All the time, Colossal does its best kaiju impression, leaving tropes of each pureed in its path.

Everyone is from a Mainline, USA

Burnt-out online writer Gloria (Anne Hathaway) has lost the eternal battle with NYC. She drinks too much, doesn’t work enough, and may be in an emotionally abusive relationship with successful suit-type Tim. It all comes to a breaking point after one too many midday meals, drunken trips back to their apartment. Tim has packed Gloria’s bags and is ready to go.

Gloria has only one option: she moves back to Mainline. In this Anytown, USA, she can walk down the street and be instantly recognized by a childhood friend, in this case a man named Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). Oscar eagerly offers Gloria a ride to wherever she’s staying, as she wants to learn more about life in the big city and what brings her back to Mainline. Gloria tries to answer something and asks about Oscar’s family and the family bar, but it could be better: “Don’t you remember? You went to the funeral.’

Things seem to be moving right down the romcom path. Due to bad luck, Gloria moves home against her will and encounters the stable friend from the hometown. Oscar needed a hand running the old family bar and suddenly a ghost from his past appears. She’s staying at her empty childhood home on a cheap air mattress, but as soon as Oscar sees it, he offers her a waiter service and a steady stream of old furniture.

But Gloria’s old ways have not stopped despite the change of the landscape. Her alcoholic tendencies lurk when Oscar and his friends gleefully close the bar at night with PBRs or Schlitzes. Gloria feels like walking herself home from these things (also, of course, she doesn’t have a car). But one night she doesn’t make it… instead she falls asleep on a park bench at one of the bus stops of the local school. Startled by the children getting out, she stumbles home, falls asleep and wakes up in the afternoon to a phone call with Tim.

Right then, things in Colossal stop being rom-com and start getting real – really crazy, interesting, inventive and captivating, that is.

De interpretatie van de auteur van de twee kaiju in <em>Colossal</em>.” src=”https://cdn.arstechnica.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/ArsColossal-640×375.jpg” width=”640″ height=”375″/><figcaption class=

The author’s interpretation of the two kaiju in Colossal.

Kaiju time

Yes, when Gloria wakes up on the floor to chat with Tim at her parents’ house, something has happened. From one day to the next, a gigantic big-looking monster essentially appeared out of nowhere in Seoul and stumbled through the bustling downtown while killing countless South Koreans in its path. Gloria is shocked, Tim not so much: “That happened about nine hours ago,” he notes.

Yes, from there gigantic monster battles await the viewers. Groot-ish is eventually tortured, apologizes and then tries to save the people of Seoul from an equally kaiju robot in the course of Colossal. But this movie in no way qualifies as standard genre fare that fans may know and appreciate. As Vulture reviewer Kyle Buchanan put it, “Give me the first 10 minutes of a movie, and I can usually figure out the last 10, as most movies follow a predictable three-act path of intent and payoff. Not so, Colossal.” (Note, the Great Monster is front and center in the first scene of the movie.)

The low-budget Kaiju movies we all love can largely look like vehicles for cool monster design and action in retrospect, not much more. On the other hand, Colossal pays attention to all the little details and becomes a more rewarding movie for it. Really, recording a sample feels like the only link to Godzilla et al. And like all good genres, the Colossal monsters stand for something else: Gloria’s alcoholism, Oscar’s self-loathing, denial, jealousy, or maybe even stubborn things like seemingly harmless activities that really aren’t (see our main characters’ love of recreational drinking, drugs, and horseplay) or US- centrism and related ignorance about how we influence others. Besides somehow connecting the monsters to Gloria and Oscar, Vigalondo doesn’t provide definitive answers. Instead, he alludes to many possibilities and lets the public draw their own conclusions.

Colossals casting cleverly builds on the pre-existing relationship fans have with its two leads. Hathaway immediately comes across as sympathetic, despite her character’s obvious vices. And Sudeikis does a mean job that caught viewers off guard halfway through the film, largely because of the actor’s built-in charm. The dark chapters here are much more impactful because you were looking for two old friends to end up in some sort of symbiotic relationship. Instead, the reality is what Colossal moments will really make the stomach chug or make faces shiver.

Overall cinematography nods to the headliner genre, and various visual sequences give you that grandiose feel usually reserved for Godzilla emerging from behind skyscrapers. The reveal of young Gloria’s origin story, her realization about the current kaiju monster through TV news or in the nearby playground, the real monster battle of the last act (which takes place in an old pool, not in Seoul) – all perfect frame Hathaway or Sudeikis as a spectator as the camera scales back to a larger, telling image. (The best image may be a little nod to, however) The Matrix while Hathaway dons a long black trench coat and slowly walks against traffic to end the current chaos.)

Soundtracking veteran Bear McCreary’s score is so good that it even gets a bizarre reference in the film. As Oscar and Gloria talk about renovating an unused, wonderfully dated western section of his bar building, she exclaims, “It’s like a Wes Anderson movie here.” Oscar has a quick answer: “Well, I wish the music was better back then.” Immediately we get a quick montage across town with an impeccable track selection from McCreary.

“Look what it takes to make it interesting here”

Without giving away the plot, Colossal hit all the right notes for me. Some moments deftly appropriate old kaiju tropes (fugitive citizens in Seoul become more than props from distant lands who die without consequence), others make you smile for clever writing (you abandon the desire to be a regular in a local korean restaurant and to google “tea bag astronaut”). The sympathetic performances and well-thought-out execution of the film only add to its charm.

But most surprising of all, the film somehow managed to keep me in mind between the grimaces and grins. Perhaps, as a low-level journalist unsure of her future, Gloria struck a chord. Or maybe Oscar, who tells Gloria how he reluctantly followed even her miserly success (“Someone got out of here and did something special for once”), had felt he could get out of my house in Scranton, Pennsylvania and not from Mainline. The inner tension between wanting and appreciating what you have more, acknowledging your weaknesses and embracing your abilities crept up on me. Oscar and Gloria’s problems, emotions, aspirations and insecurities all felt real and recognizable.

So if the world of Colossal housed his monsters, the film ended up reminding me of the ones lurking in the real world too. Thankfully, though it can take many twists and turns, our hero points the way to a happy(ish) ending.

List image by Fantastic Fest

By akfire1

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