Colossal (2016)

Directed by Nacho Vigalondo


Colossal is about Gloria’s (Anne Hathaway) struggle to put her life back together while she deals with her alcoholism and being broke.  Except, the film mostly disregards both of these points and focuses on an abusive childhood friend, Oscar (Jason Sudeikis) with whom she reconnects after returning home following a break up.

When I left the theater, I heard someone say, “I didn’t know Oscar was that bad,” after he is (spoiler) demolished by the monster which Gloria controls through some sort of telepathy.  It’s a brutal end for a character who was never quite as evil as his demise would suggest.  Oscar is by no means a great guy, and the film really delves into his psyche, breaking him down and exposing his insecurities and control issues.  He, like Gloria, is an alcoholic, and if there’s something wrong with Gloria, then there are a million things wrong with Oscar.  But his downfall feels so abrupt at various points in the story, like he’s just a good guy and he needs to be evil for the story to work.

The film presents itself as a story of one woman’s destructive tendencies, and instead it turns all its attention to another man’s destructive tendencies while mostly ignoring the parallels between their two lives.  In other words, the movie kind of misses the mark.  It’s still an entertaining story with an exciting premise and various little twists along the way, but at the end I felt a little lost, like how you might feel when you go in for a hug and your friend comes at you with a fist bump.

The premise of the film, as shown in the trailer and longline, is that Gloria’s life is falling apart.  Her boyfriend dumps her, pointing specifically to her alcoholism and lack of ambitions as the reason.  Then she moves home because she has nowhere else to go.  But her problems from this new situation are money and alcoholism, and neither are that big of a deal really.  First, Gloria apparently has a very nice home to go to, owned by, it seems, her.  Sure she doesn’t have a bed or a bank account (presumably) but holy shit this house has got to be worth a lot.  And then Oscar offers her a job at his bar, and her only apprehension is due to her alcoholism, but she accepts anyway.

A little before the midpoint of the film, Gloria solves her alcoholism.  It just… goes away with no explanation.  So the film completely disregards this struggle (which I had expected to be the focal point of the story) and moves onto… well I’ll get there.

So one night, Gloria stumbles through a playground at 8:05 in the morning while drunk.  Later she learns about a giant monster that has attacked Seoul, South Korea.  Through a little analysis, Gloria realizes that she controls the monster, in real time.  Though we don’t know why, it’s safe to say that this is a manifestation of the damage she causes while drunk (which is slowly ruining her life).  She shows this to Oscar and a couple of other friends, and their minds are blown, as they should be.

Gloria only appears as this monster when she walks into the playground at precisely 8:05 am, and from what we observe, the monster ends up having nothing to do with her alcoholism.  It’s just the magical playground.

At some point, Gloria makes another monster appearance and spells out “I am sorry” in Korean along with a few other apologetic sentiments.  As I type this, I feel like I’m wasting words because none of this seems to matter in the grand scheme of this story, even though it should.

Oscar walks up beside her on the playground and we (and he) learn that he has manifested himself as a green robot alongside the monster.  At this point I believed that anyone who wandered onto this playground at this time would show up as some creature, but no, it’s just Gloria and Oscar.

When Oscar discovers that Gloria has slept with his friend Joel (Austin Stowell), he becomes livid and threatens her by saying he’ll stomp around the playground again, thus causing extensive damage and casualties in Seoul.  This is when Oscar becomes a clear villain.  He doesn’t just want to control Gloria, as she later realizes, he simply hates himself and wants to cause this destruction.

So the movie presented itself as the story of a woman who couldn’t help but cause destruction and pivots to this guy who wants to cause it.  The city (and the world) begins to rally around Gloria’s monster when it’s clear the monster is the protector of the city, fighting against the robot.

Eventually Oscar prevents Gloria from leaving the city by saying that, for every day she’s not there, he’ll stomp around the playground/Seoul, effectively keeping her hostage.  Gloria’s plan, eventually, is to travel to Seoul where she manifests herself as the monster but this time at the playground where Oscar drunkenly stomps around.  She reaches out and grabs him and then flings him miles away where he is left to plummet to his death.

Then she walks back to a bar where she breaks down and cries before composing herself.  The bartender asks if she’d like a drink, and she sighs right before we cut to black in a way that is kind of funny but also shows how she (and the film) completely missed the point.  She’s still an alcoholic.

So my main problem with this film is that it makes it this story of Gloria fighting the righteous fight against this controlling, abusive man, but… the story presents itself as that of a woman fixing herself.  The eventual conflict and focus isn’t bad by any means, it’s just a little rushed and scattered.  We don’t know anything about Oscar before we meet him.  There is no sense, even, that Gloria’s struggle in life is related to Oscar’s mistreatment of her as a child.  We eventually see in a flashback that Oscar once destroyed Gloria’s diorama-type project of Seoul when they were kids, and this moment is what sent lightning shooting into their heads, making it so that they become monsters in Seoul when they’re on the playground.  But… why?  They’re not on the playground when this happens, and there’s no alcohol involved.  It makes no sense within the rules the story sets up for itself.  This explanation is also pretty absurd and silly and would’ve been better left on the cutting room floor.  I don’t think we needed an explanation about what’s going on.  The most important detail is what happens next.

So in the end, we get this picture of Gloria as a pretty cool person who has been mistreated by Oscar and by her ex-boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) whose only crime appears to be breaking up with her, though his reasons for doing so are extremely valid. After he breaks up with her (a little nervously), we see a bunch of Gloria’s friends bombard their shared apartment ready to start drinking even though she just got back from being out all night drinking.  She was taking advantage of him and he cut ties with her.

Tim comes back, wanting to get Gloria back, and the fact that he wants her back is made to be… bad?  I think she’s right for turning him down, it was a moment of triumph where she recognized her own value, but Tim never did anything wrong.  I felt like at the end of the film, Gloria never really took accountability for her own actions.  And the fact that she gave up drinking so easily and suddenly, well that just doesn’t add up.  If anything, it makes her alcoholic, destructive behavior more abhorrent since she evidently could have stopped at any time.

So what the hell?

This was such an exciting film in a lot of ways.  There are so many moments that felt so creative and even hilarious, but then Nacho Vigalondo, or maybe the studio, wanted to make Gloria the perfect hero which she’s not.  The monster has absolutely nothing to do with her destructive behavior, so why was that even brought up?  Her character journey is rushed and pointless.  Its a Lyft driver who picks you up, promptly takes four lefts, and says “we’re here.”

Before seeing this movie, I wondered where it would go.  Once Gloria realizes she controls the monster, what next?  Based on the trailer, I didn’t realize she only controlled the monster in a small radius (the playground) which makes the problem that much more manageable: just stay away from a playground, which, as a childless adult, should be easy.

I anticipated that she would control the monster anytime she was drunk or blacked out, thus explaining why she wouldn’t know she was controlling the monster.  Then I began to wonder about how she might solve this problem?  My first thought was that she might end up with no choice but to kill herself like the protagonist in An American Werewolf in London, who had a similarly catastrophic altar ego.

But by making the solution to the problem so simple, the movie suffers because it then has to artificially create a new problem, which makes Oscar pivot so aggressively from good guy (seriously, who doesn’t like Jason Sudeikis) to evil asshole.  Again, that’s where that person in the audience saying, “I didn’t know Oscar was that bad,” comes back into play.  The villain was forced upon us.  There didn’t need to be a villain, just an imperfect character addressing her shitty behavior and growing from it.  Instead she never does, and the third act of the film, while playing with some intriguing set pieces and scenarios, feels so conventional.

Oh and the last thing is, where did Gloria get the money to get on a last second flight to South Korea?  And, she clearly had no idea that by appearing there, her monster would appear at the playground.  She seems just as surprised by it as we are, so then, what was her plan?  To let Oscar kill her?  She got lucky, and the third act, again, feels so ordinary at best.  It’s a disappointing end to an exciting beginning.

But still, there’s enough entertainment to make this worth watching, I just thought it was willing to go further than it was.


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