Colossal is a movie with two or three different things on its mind. Unfortunately, that's one or two different things too many. The picture begins in the manner promised by its trailer—as a comical riff on the old Japanese kaiju monster movies of the 1950s and '60s. In this opening section the film is cute and clever; and the cleverness continues as the movie opens up its satirical concept to reference long-distance American military depredations and male-female social bullying.
It's an audacious multi-prong concept by Spanish writer and director Nacho Vigalondo, and you have to admire his skill in keeping the story chugging along. But the film's ill-matched elements are an awkward fit for one another, and after establishing its witty monster-war theme, the movie grows dark and sour, and its tone, soon trashed, never recovers.
Anne Hathaway is at her sunniest here, even when her character, an unemployed, beer-guzzling writer named Gloria, is screwing up. (Actually, Hathaway is such a bright-eyed charmer that's it's hard to buy her as a lush.) Gloria's all-night partying finally infuriates her straight-arrow English boyfriend Tim (Dan Stevens) to the point where he kicks her out of their swell Manhattan apartment and tells her to stay gone until she gets her life together. Depressed and adrift, Gloria returns to her suburban hometown and moves into the big empty house where she was raised by her now-departed parents. She quickly reconnects with her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who owns a local bar, and before long is joining in all-night drinking sessions with him and his pals Garth (Tim Blake Nelson) and Joel (Austin Stowell, of Whiplash). Oscar offers her a job as a waitress at his tavern, and drunk-prone Gloria unwisely accepts.
Then a TV report brings news that a towering monster of the Godzilla variety is wreaking havoc in faraway Seoul. Watching this creature squashing terrified Koreans, Oscar's pal Garth notes that it never looks down at the mayhem it's causing (it just does what it does, you might say, and to hell with whoever gets hurt). "It's like it's being operated by remote control," Garth says.
And it is. Gloria soon realizes that her every movement is mimicked by the rampaging behemoth – she scratches her head, the monster does the same; she does a little dance step, the monster follows suit. Before long, the original beast is joined by a second malevolent entity, this one a giant robot, which is also being operated from afar—in this case, by Oscar.
Now we realize that Gloria's long-ago playmate is not the cheery character we thought he was (how many actors are cheerier than Jason Sudeikis?). Oscar is actually a twisted and sadistic loser—bitter about never having escaped his small town the way Gloria did, delighted by her fall from grace, jealous of her boyfriend, and further uglified by a serious drinking problem of his own. He and Gloria are now headed for a violent showdown, to be fought halfway around the world by their primordial proxies.
Vigalondo has thought all of this out in considerable detail, but it doesn't matter. Despite the inventive monster backstory that we're eventually let in on, and the colorful location side-trips to Seoul, Sudeikis's sudden morphing into a sneering, dead-eyed misogynist is all too convincing, and distinctively unpleasant. And when we're compelled to watch Oscar smacking Gloria around and beating her to the ground, it's hard to find much else about the movie enjoyable. I hope I'm not alone in this response.