I bet the person in charge of marketing Colossal named the ulcer they developed “Nacho.” Writer/director Nacho Vigalondo’s latest is nigh-impossible to categorize and misleading to summarize. It is an aggressively original film that tackles a maddeningly overlooked subject using a giant monster, a towering robot and the oddly divisive presence of Anne Hathaway. What Colossal gets modestly wrong in terms of mildly mixed messaging and on-the-nose metaphor is easily forgiven when considering how unapologetic it is about the importance of its monstrous actual subject.
That subject is abuse.
Colossal uses the medium of science-fiction in its best, most meaningful way: as a figurative social magnifying glass. The film makes literal the symbolic magnitude of the epidemic involving the modern aggro-masculine torture of women. Hathaway plays Gloria, a woman whose douchebag boyfriend, Tim (Dan Stevens), keeps her around so he can feel superior. He deplorably disguises his demeaning mistreatment, masking his abuse as concern. When he kicks her out, she returns to her hometown and reunites with her grade-school friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis). Shortly thereafter, a giant monster appears out of nowhere and demolishes Seoul, South Korea.
These events are connected because Gloria is the monster. At least, when she walks through a specific playground at a specific time, a bug-lookin’ kaiju shows up on the other side of the world and replicates her every action. Hatha-haters in the audience will no doubt finally feel smugly justified. The Hathaway-lien soon has company, a development that is technically a spoiler. But you know what? Screw it. Colossal is less about plot-based contrivances and more demonstrates a desire to engage in or, in the case of head-in-sand ignoramuses, start a massively important dialogue. So let’s do that.
Oscar discovers he too can control a creature by going in the playground. It’s a giant robot he uses to recklessly slaughter innocents, a macrocosmic expansion of the mental and physical abuse he begins imparting on Gloria. Oscar’s metamorphosis from “aw shucks” nice guy to physically violent total dickbag makes him one of the more significant movie supervillains in modern memory. Vigalondo’s grounding of this abuse fable within a quasi-superhero flick, the most dominant genre of our current era, is purposeful. Gloria’s arc mimics the classic comic book origin story, with her transcending from downtrodden and hurt to triumphantly empowered. Tired of the message falling on deaf ears, Colossal speaks its vital truth in the pop culture language of the times, daring audiences to miss the point.
They can’t, which is one of the film’s problems. It’s stultifyingly obvious in its narrative analog. Forgoing cleverness for brutal, in-your-face moralizing is understandable if a bit structurally underwhelming. The other major problem is Gloria’s inconsistent depiction. Hathaway isn’t to blame, as she gives a largely controlled, rich performance. Vigalondo’s writing of her actions are muddled in the beginning and conflicting at times near the end. Considering how crude the rest of the metaphor is, having “shades of gray” only in the victim of domestic violence seems a bit off. But it’s hard to be too angry at Colossal, considering how much better things could be if important issues found their way to the cultural spotlight in this fashion more often.
This review previously appeared in The Reader of Omaha, Nebraska.