When I was a kid, I spent many afternoons watching such Godzilla movies as Godzilla Vs. Hedora (a.k.a. Godzilla Vs. The Smog Monster) and Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla over and over on TV. But the one I could never abide was All Monsters Attack, in which a Japanese schoolboy is being bullied at school, so he imagines that Godzilla’s baby-faced son, Minya, is his BFF. Especially since Minya, for some stupid reason, speaks Japanese. Or rather English in the version they showed on TV.
So it was with trepidation that I sat down to watch Colossal, a new movie in which a woman learns she’s in control of a Godzilla-esque monster. But Colossal is not only a lot better than All Monsters Attack, it’s also not what you might expect.
In Colossal, a gigantic monster attacks Seoul, Korea. But what’s weird is that the monster is under the control of an American woman named Gloria, played by Anne Hathaway (Interstellar). Not intentionally, mind you; Gloria isn’t a mad scientist or anything, and she’s got nothing against South Korea, she just has a bond with the creature. She’s also an alcoholic party girl who makes bad choices, and ends up living in her parents’ abandoned house, working for a former grade school pal (Horrible Bosses‘ Jason Sudeikis) as a waitress in his failing bar. So, y’know, she’s got that going for her. Thankfully, the monster only appears at 8:05AM in Gloria’s time zone, and if she’s in the playground at a local park. But if she is, she can cause the monster to raise its hand, lift it leg, even do a little jig from halfway around the world.
Directed by Nacho Vigalondo, who previously helmed Open Windows and the “Parallel Monsters” segment of V/H/S: Viral, Colossal could’ve easily been a fast and easy comedy like the Ted movies. And that probably would’ve worked out well, though it just as easily might’ve crashed and burned. But instead, Colossal takes some darker turns, while keeping the funny moments to situational ones that would’ve happened, as opposed to obviously scripted jokes.
Similarly, the plot of Colossal, also penned by Vigalondo, doesn’t take the obvious path. Instead, it goes somewhere unexpected, somewhere that’s not only more fable-like than you might expect, but also somewhere that isn’t telegraphed, a sin too made by too many movies.
As a result, Colossal comes across more like some of the more serious monster movies — think: the original Gojira, the American Godzilla from 2014, and The Host — than it does, well, the unintentionally campy Godzilla Vs. Hedora or Godzilla Vs. Mechagodzilla.
Holding this all together are Hathaway and Sudeikis, both of whom have shown before that they can be likable and funny but also big jerks with dark sides. In the case of Hathaway, her depiction of Gloria comes across like an older, sadder version of the character she played in Havoc, while Sudeikis displays a range similar to what he showed in Sleeping With Other People.
As for Vigalondo, he directs Colossal not like it’s a quick comedy or a monster movie, but more like a slightly artsy but otherwise serious but twisted drama. Sure, there are times when he gets a bit clever with the camera, but it usually works to serve the story. He’s also not afraid to make things uncomfortable when they need to be. While some directors would cut the tension with a joke, Vigalondo let’s these tense moments go, and the movie is all the better for it.
It also helps that the monster in Colossal doesn’t look like a guy in a rubber suit — though that would’ve been funny and somewhat appropriate — but is instead done with the same levels of CGI as Godzilla was in his most recent movie.
As well done as Colossal may be, though, it’s not without its problems. First, it makes the same mistake as its fellow monster movies Cloverfield and the most recent Godzilla: it doesn’t show the monster enough. Yes, I get that this isn’t a big budget movie, but it is a “monster movie,” so a few more shots of the big guy would’ve been good, especially when he’s doing a jig.
There’s also a logic problem in Colossal I can’t rectify. While the monster doesn’t appear every day, when it does show up, it’s always at the same time and place in Seoul. And yet, the government hasn’t evacuated the area permanently, and people continue to go to that part of the city, even though they might get stepped on. Sure, it could be argued that people need to be in jeopardy for certain aspects of the story to work, but it still took me out of the movie for a moment.
In the end, Colossal is a weird but cool monster movie with a dark side, but one that isn’t just a cool monster movie with a dark side. Granted, 10-year-old me probably wouldn’t have watched over and over, no matter how many times it was on TV, but 49-year-old me really wants to see it again.