It is technically possible to discuss the new movie Colossal without divulging its twists. You could, for instance, talk about how it offers Anne Hathaway the best role she's had in years, stretching all the way back to 2008's Rachel Getting Married. You could also examine where the film sits in the current market landscape, in that it offers discerning audiences a mid-budget drama bereft of franchise potential at a time when such offerings are few and far between. You could do all that, and you'd have fine enough talking points. But to do director Nacho Vigalondo's ambitious, even brave Colossal any justice, you have to start spoiling things.
With that warning, Colossal presents two twists, one more (ahem) sizable than the other. The first has mostly been spoiled already by the film's marketing, revealing that Hathaway's character Gloria, an alcoholic writer, has a psychic connection to a Godzilla-like monster that wreaks havoc on Seoul, South Korea, every time she goes on a bender. Normally, that turn would be enough to set Vigalondo's film apart – the kaiju-as-emotional-catharsis movie isn't exactly a prolific genre. But it's the film's second twist that makes Colossal so captivating, and so important for our current cultural era: It is less a high-concept monster mash than it is a raw drama about toxic masculinity.
Early in the film, Gloria flees her high-flying life in Manhattan for her dull and depressed hometown of Anywhere, U.S.A., where she enjoys a meet-cute with childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), a handsome and witty bachelor who runs the local bar. Standard movie operating procedure dictates that these two restless souls would connect romantically, and together defeat Gloria's literal demons. Instead, it's revealed that Oscar is the film's true villain, the type of "nice guy" who will buy you a beer, walk you home, and then reveal his dark side – that the world owes him something for his faux sincerity, that he knows what's best for you and him, and to hell with anyone who gets in the way of his presumed just rewards.
Colossal trades one type of ubiquitous monster for a far more infrequently examined kind – trolls, basically, who live to demean and to abuse whatever power they have, especially if their scorn can be directed at women. It's a bold bait and switch, and an opportunity for its marquee stars to revel in the uglier side of human nature – particularly Sudeikis, who's been playing true nice guys, minus the toxicity, for most of his career (Hall Pass, We're the Millers, Mother's Day).
"Frankly, I was flattered to be seen that way, finally, as odd as that sounds," Sudeikis said during an interview at last fall's Toronto International Film Festival, where Colossal premiered. "[My wife Olivia Wilde] said a few years ago that I should play a psycho in a movie, which I didn't take as an insult. For me, I can view Oscar now as a bad guy, but you still do feel empathy for this person. It breaks my heart a little that he doesn't love himself, that he has so much self-hate that it's spilling over to people who he cares about, or at least thinks he cares about."
With the poisonous politics of so-called "Men's Rights Activists" – who, generally, believe they are owed something of the world simply by the virtue of being male – increasingly worming their way into the cultural conversation, Colossal's choice of villain is not only ingenious, it's necessary. Too often, filmmakers get lazy with their sexual politics, pairing rough-around-the-edges men with multidimensional women because that's the easiest, and most expected, route. (Rom-coms are rife with these cads, from 27 Dresses to Love Actually to the entire filmography of Gerard Butler save for his Location X-Has-Fallen franchise.)
"It's important to say this movie is about toxic masculinity, which is ugly and destructive, and is very different from male energy, which is beautiful and welcome and necessary," Hathaway said in an interview alongside her co-star. "There have been some great perversions of male energy recently, and this macho ideal doesn't serve anybody. It certainly doesn't serve communication or love. Here, Nacho was saying that this perversion has no place in our world any more."
Vigalondo, who's previously toyed with genre assumptions in his films Timecrimes and Open Windows, could have spelled out Oscar's moral shortcomings from the beginning of Colossal. Yet, by teasing the character out over the course of the film – Oscar cracks a gross joke here, displays a jealousy streak there – our expectations are shifted and jarred in an uncomfortable way, in much the same way Gloria is upended by the reality of the relationship. It's queasy and difficult to watch, but ultimately welcome, in that Vigalondo exposes these men for who they are: weak, pitiful bullies.
"It's sad in the case of Oscar that he would rather die than melt into vulnerability, than explore softness. There should be no fear in that," says Hathaway. "But when you say Oscar is a bad guy or a villain, I'm also not so sure he is, completely. We have to look at what drove him to such self-loathing, what in the culture made him that way. Those are the questions worth asking here."
If those questions are served alongside a liberal dose of monster-movie mayhem, then so be it. Hathaway, who serves as a producer for Colossal, understands that it's not the easiest subject to approach no matter what the genre window dressing. "It's tough to do because Colossal rides a really tricky line, but thank god Nacho is in the driver's seat, because he handles it beautifully," she says. "I think [audiences] are poised and primed for this kind of film, this kind of discussion. We just have to be ready to deliver."
Colossal opens April 21 in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal before expanding to other Canadian cities April 28.