This movie discusses the plot of the movie “Colossal.”
I’m not a contrarian by nature, but as a critic, the occasions when I find myself disagreeing with my colleagues are often more interesting than when I chime in as part of a general consensus. Such is it with “Colossal,” a movie from director Nacho Vigalondo opening in Washington this weekend that I badly wanted to like. I also ought to have been primed to like it: It has a complex and often weak female main character, a dark view of men who use their niceness as a weapon and a science fictional metaphor for human emotions. But “Colossal” is best as a case study in how packing a movie with political signifiers isn’t enough to make it good. Execution matters. And a movie with feminist intentions needs not only to cheer its heroine but to challenge her.
Anne Hathaway plays Gloria, an alcoholic who moves back upstate to a house her parents own after a breakup. She begins slinging drinks at a bar run by Oscar (Jason Sudeikis, wildly out of his league). And after a series of drunken stumbles home after her shift has ended, Gloria discovers that when she wanders into a neighborhood playground at a precise time each morning, a skyscraper-sized monster appears on the edge of Seoul at the exact same moment. Depending on how trashed Gloria is, the monster might just stand there, dancing or scratching its head in an imitation of Gloria’s tic — or it might fall down or rampage through the city, at a deadly cost. When Gloria shares her secret with Oscar, they learn that if he joins her on the playground, a giant robot shows up, something Oscar exploits to manipulate Gloria when she tries to stop drinking.
I fully appreciate what “Colossal” is trying to do. There have been plenty of pop culture stories that use monstrousness as a metaphor for female recklessness, or even for women’s sexual liberation and general freedom. And theoretically, the appearances over Seoul could be an effective way to make the audience understand the effects of Gloria’s alcoholism, and the extent of the hold Oscar has over her.
But “Colossal” doesn’t land with the shattering impact I think Vigalondo intends. And it’s because the movie never carries that idea to its conclusion, either in examining how Gloria’s carelessness affects others, or the destruction that she and Oscar cause a world away out of selfishness.
At the beginning of the movie, Gloria’s boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) kicks her out after she stays out all night without telling him where she’s gone, but we never see the wreckage it’s implied that she’s inflicted on his life, or on the lives of anyone else. At most, she seems annoying and thoughtless, not actively harmful. When she moves home, she falls easily into Oscar’s routine at the bar, staying after hours and drinking with Joel (Austin Stowell) and Garth (Tim Blake Nelson); she may be enabling them in the same way they enable her, but she’s not causing damage where none exists.
And most egregiously, the movie raises the prospect that Gloria’s drunken rampage through Seoul has killed hundreds of people, but never confirms the actual number, and never takes the time to introduce us to someone whose family she shattered, or to sit with the destruction she’s caused. (The same is true for Oscar’s attacks on the city.)
This is probably in part because “Colossal” didn’t have the budget to film those rampages with the sort of detail that a Marvel or DC movie might have lavished on the horror: its reported budget was $15 million. But the result is a kind of moral negligence. The movie never risks us truly turning against Gloria, or asks us to consider that she and Oscar might be more similar than Gloria would want to believe.
As a result, her act of heroism at the end of the movie is compromised. Gloria prevents an evil act, but it can’t erase the damage she herself has done to the city. There’s nothing in “Colossal” that even nods at Willow Rosenberg’s (Alyson Hannigan) penance after her witchy rampage in the sixth season of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” or Daenerys Targaryen’s (Emilia Clarke) horror after one of her dragons killed a child in “Game of Thrones.” This is great power without great accountability, empowerment with a side of evasion.