I wouldn't be writing this, if I hadn't, in reading up on this film after viewing it, stumbled across an odd division in how people have received and interpreted this film.
Or, let's start differently. This is a very good film but the thing about it that will follow me isn't the memorable concept, the way it twists the superhero movie into something new, unexpected and budget-conscious, but how Jason Sudeikis manages to portray the transformation of a romcom staple - the nice guy - into an absolutely terrifying, textbook abuser. And in turn, how alienating it was to read reviews of this film that focused entirely on Anne Hathaway's character, on her issues, on Gloria's alcoholism, and never even mentioned the way that this whole film is about Oscar being revealed as a misogynist super-villain, and Gloria finding the strength to stand up against him and rid the world of his terror.
Colossal is a film about toxic masculinity and a very specific, American approach to catastrophes happening in distant countries, to people who are far away. And the film isn't even particularly subtle about either of these (nor is it about Gloria's alcoholism, or the fact that it lacks sympathetic characters), so that it becomes even more astonishing when this core driving force is buried beneath cliched review writing about "genre-hopping" or "romantic comedies with a twist".
Gloria (Anne Hathaway) lives in New York with her boyfriend, played by Dan Stevens. Once, in the past, she was a writer of some sort, but she is no longer writing anything at all, and instead suffers from alcohol-induced blackouts that severely impact her memory and her temporal orientation. To get her life together, she moves into her parents' empty house (where the parents are, or what happened to them, isn't really revealed) in her hometown - soon stumbling into gainful employment with the help of an old acquaintance, Oscar, who is now running his dad's old bar. Oscar first appears as a helpful, down-to-earth guy, who according to every trope in the book has always had a crush on Gloria and is now just trying to help her out any way he can, except the disconcerting thing that soon emerges is that he also starts using her alcoholic blackouts as an excuse to weasel his way into his life (like showing up at her doorstep, again and again referencing things that supposedly happened while she was drunk). There is also a scene early on that hints at what is to come, when Oscar reacts aggressively to one of his mates flirting with Gloria. It's the small things that matter here - the way he becomes cynical and verbally abusive when he's drunk, the way he doesn't accept boundaries, the way he doesn't really take no for an answer, ever. The scary thing about this film is that it is so clearly conscious of the fact that all of these gestures, in a lesser film, would have been interpreted as romantic - that Oscar would be the romantic lead - thereby normalising his creepy behaviour.
The twist here is that this isn't a drama film, that there is a whole other plot that starts to happen in the background - after one of her alcohol-induced blackouts, Gloria catches up with the news that she missed while she was sleeping, and realises that world history has changed while she was checked out. A giant monster appeared in Seoul, causing destruction and confusion. Gloria (and the rest of the world) becomes obsessed with that monster and follows it through youtube videos and newsfeeds. Except the twist is that she soon realises that the monster appears every time she steps on a particular playground in her neighbourhood, and that the monster mirrors her movements. Gloria - drawing a direct line from Seoul to her hometown - realises that she IS the monster, that there is a weird, spacial connection between the playground and Seoul.
It reveals a lot about Gloria that her reaction to this realisation is to share it with her newly found, down-and-out friends, that she thinks it's particularly cool, that she doesn't even feel particularly guilty straight away when she drunkenly stumbles and the monster, across the world, wipes out hundreds of human lives, stumbling with her. It's a perfect metaphor of sorts, that a witless American on the other end of the world stumbles around a playground, causing human suffering in a place she's never been to, and it takes Gloria a while to realise the implications of it. She does, eventually, but this is also the point at which the film again turns into something else: when Oscar turns from the gentle man who protects Gloria, who helps her (who discovers his own powers, materialising as a giant robot aside her in Seoul when he is on the playground, at a particular time), into a raging monster, because Gloria sleeps with one of his friends.
Oscar is nice and helpful for as long as he thinks that he is successfully working towards winning Gloria over - he isn't nice for the sake of being nice, but because he think she will eventually be rewarded with her love and affection. From his perspective, this is a classic manic pixie dream girl story, where he is the nice guy who, through continued acts of niceness, will eventually get the girl - except the story doesn't go this way, because Gloria isn't really romantically interested in him at all (or in anyone, really, including her actual boyfriend, who eventually pops up to try and save her from herself, which thankfully the story doesn't allow him to do). He reacts with a blind rage, the kind of terrifying, very very real violence that first turns against objects (because he is a good guy, he isn't going to hit a woman, until he does). He becomes manipulative, using Gloria's empathy against her, threatening to kill people across the world if she doesn't stay with him. Sudeikis performance is outstanding here, especially considering that he is mainly known as a comedy guy - he hits all the notes perfectly, the veiled threats, the scary body language of a man barely containing his rage, the anger of someone who feels wronged because he didn't get his prize, in spite of playing the game the way he was taught to. His friends do nothing, in spite of seeing every bit of his evilness, of the danger he poses not just to Gloria, but to the people far away on the television screen. They are hapless, ineffective, powerless. In the end it's Gloria who - with a black eye, because at some point, all of Oscar's pretence drops, and he reveals himself as the monster that he is - finds a way to beat this perfect example of toxic masculinity. She saves herself, and the world with her, except the world would have never needed saving if she had been responsible for her own actions in the first place. It is quite astonishing that Colossal manages both here: portraying Gloria as the heroine in the face of an abusive, manipulative villain who hates women, who has always hated women, but also as the emblem of American irresponsibility, which costs so many lives in this film.
2016, directed by Nacho Vigalondo, starring Anne Hathaway, Jason Sudeikis, Austin Stowell, Tim Blake Nelson, Dan Stevens.