Colossal ★½

Somehow, a film that starts off with a massive kaiju looming over Seoul manages to exemplify some the worst fetishes of action flicks and modern, self-aware TV romcoms.

I appreciate Colossal's overall themes and intentions. I appreciate its commentary on the diverse flavors of toxicity in relationships, and its championing of the independent female spirit. But these intentions don't excuse its heavy-handed, pandering approach to expressing these themes, and they don't excuse its other numerous offenses, from awkward-sexy boy-girl interactions and hyper-aware millennial jokes to over-indulgent action productions and self-applauding cultural 'diversity' — using dissonant stereotypical backdrops that put the studio's interests ahead of the narrative's while introducing a foreign, exotic flavor that exists in a completely uninhabited space within the film's reality. It's an impeccable combination of recent entertainment's worst appeasements, all set under a unique narrative premise and thematic angle that aims needfully to please the digital generation with a loosey-goosey metaphor.

Consider what we're promised by the film's synopsis and opening beats: a film about a kaiju terrorizing Seoul while Anne Hathaway's life bleeds dry in the aftermath of an over-dependent relationship with her toxic ex-boyfriend.

From there, you'd be hard-pressed to predict the haphazard collection of bland, unmotivated, throw-away cookie-cutter scenes that end up littering Colossal's screen time. Half of these scenes could be deftly spliced into a generic romantic comedy or drama, spooling out minutes of dead-end conversations between unrealized characters, while real plot points and dramatic opportunities are plainly mansplained away or plattered through explanatory dialogue.

As much as these scenes play into Gloria's deference and lack of agency, their presence takes its toll on the film's narrative pacing and intrigue, serving as mental and emotional vacuums through which backstory- and motivation-laced scripts can sweep in to fill the void. There's nothing to latch onto here — no pulsing narrative thread or empathetic well of humanity. It's more like experiencing a handful of forgettable bar conversations and waking up to hear someone list out all the revelations that spirited up after you blacked out — a cyclic vortex that plays out again and again as you watch Colossal.

The Neon Shorts production that screened before this film was probably the highlight of my time in the theater — enjoyable in the moment due to its disparaging content lamenting 'classic millennial activities,' but also enjoyable in retrospect, as a microcosm of the film that followed.

These shorts aimed their lamentations towards the stereotypical millennial lifestyle, but portrayed these lamentations from the viewpoint of millennials themselves, who have taken self-deprecation and mutual appraisal into a new era of social acceptance. We applaud ourselves for being aware of the new, modern age of the impersonal internet, recognizing toxic, self-gratifying behaviors within others while ourselves banding together into a cloud of self-gratifying ideology — congratulating each other for pointing out a film's strong feminist ending, use of foreign culture, or 'honest' jokes normalizing adorably incompetent and lazy behaviors in a social society.

We extrapolate and applaud glimpses of good intentions, without ever considering how the physical pieces fit together into a greater narrative and reality. The intentions of these shorts, and the film itself, are applaudable, but their self-awareness of the social responsibilities and implications become too big to tread with care. Colossal mishandles and misshapes these intentions as it begins, particularly in the second half, to act on the expectations of its audience, never taking a step back to think about how it all sensibly feeds back into its own premise and lofty themes.

In the end, the film flails wildly in a number of different directions to appease the target audience. These are all movements we've seen before in separate contexts, and their boundaries clash visibly here. Colossal aims to be appreciated as a forward-thinking film, but it borrows from recognizably safe visual and characterizing beats instead of putting its faith in the unique, multifaceted story it wants to tell. In a way, it works, because I can appreciate what it means to say, even if the words don't come out the right way.