Colossal

colossal_28film29Colossal, written and directed by Nacho Vigalondo, is a strange film to have to describe to someone. When you say “it’s a dark black comedy about alcoholism and abusive relationships starring Anne Hathaway, who finds out she’s causing a giant monster to attack Seoul”, you get some puzzled looks, because yes, this is a weird mashup of genres. I wasn’t sure what to expect going in; what little I’d heard suggested it would either be a huge disaster, or that I would love it. And hey, it’s not a disaster.

Anne Hathaway’s character, Gloria, is an unemployed writer with an alcohol problem. After being kicked out by her boyfriend she moves back to her home town, where she runs into her childhood friend Oscar (Jason Sudeikis), who offers her a job at his bar. Gloria quickly settles into a pattern of drinking all night with Oscar and his buddies, often waking the next day with no memory of the night before.

And then the news starts reporting about a giant monster that has been materialising in Seoul, South Korea, causing terror and destruction. Gloria quickly comes to the realisation that she is in fact causing the monster to appear, and it is mimicking her actions.

It’s a pretty blatant metaphor: the monster destroying Seoul as a stand in for the damage Gloria causes to those around her with her self-destructive drunken behaviour. Where things get really interesting is after she shares her discovery with Oscar and his friends; Gloria’s relationship with Oscar begins to take a darker turn, and their influence over the events in Korea become part of an increasingly abusive cycle.

It’s so obvious what the film is doing with this premise that it seems like it shouldn’t work at all, but somehow it does. Despite some jarring swings in tone in the early parts – when the monster attacks are first reported I felt like this would fall apart after all – the film really manages to sell the idea that this is what is happening, and this is what real, flawed people would do with that power. The performance by Sudeikis in particular, with the gradual reveal of his abusive nature, is excellent.

This can be a very dark film, and it is tackling some serious subject matter, but it also manages to have incredibly funny moments, even when what’s happening perhaps isn’t something that should be laughed at.  The tone does clash at times, but for the most part it’s handled well, and I think the portrayal of domestic abuse is something the film does well and treats somewhat respectfully. If there’s one problem on that end it’s that the resolution of their conflict is maybe a little too easy and neat.

One final thing I feel is worth bringing up, and which adds a small caveat to my otherwise strong recommendation, is that this is a film about two white Americans in New England whose personal problems are acted out upon the lives of thousands of South Koreans; the very real death and destruction they cause is far removed from them, existing for the purposes of the film as part of an extended metaphor for the control abusers can hold over their victims. As a white westerner myself I don’t think there’s much I can say about that, but the use of Asian lives like this without providing them a real presence or agency in the film seems like something that deserves addressing.

That said, Colossal is unique, weird, and features some brilliant performances. It might not work for everyone, but I very much enjoyed it and would recommend checking it out. It’s in cinemas in the UK right now (though not in all of them; I had to travel a little out of my way to see it).

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X-Men Apocalypse

X-Men Apocalypse would be a good film, if they hadn’t decided to skimp on character development in favour of filling the middle with pointless fanservice and padding.

(Spoilers ahead.)

I just got back from seeing the film, and I already tweeted a bunch of thoughts on it, but here I’ll go over them in a little more detail.

So you’re making a movie, and you have a group of teenage characters who are just getting to know each other. The foreign exchange student wants to see a bit of US culture, so what else is there to do but have them take a trip to the mall? (This is set in the 80s, after all.) They get to hang out together on their own terms for the first time; you can show how they interact as a group, start them bonding. Maybe the new kid gets into some trouble because he looks different, and his new friends stick up for him. When they come back to school and find out that plot has happened, they’ve already become a team to the audience’s eyes.

Or you can have all that happen off screen and show another Quicksilver slow-mo sequence instead. The fans liked that last time, right? They won’t want to get to know these new characters, what they want is the same thing as last time, but twice as long and with way more forced humour.

And that there is where X-Men Apocalypse falls down. While we do get to know Scott Summers, Jean Grey, and Kurt Wagner somewhat, their initial bonding as a group happens off screen. This is perhaps because the following segment of the film has the three of them working together to help rescue several other X-Men (and Moira McTaggart) from Colonel Stryker, but the problem with that is the entire sequence is irrelevant to the plot of the film.

At best, the section in Col. Stryker’s secret base exists only to have a fanservice scene of a newly-created Weapon X Wolverine slaughtering his way through a small army. It’s padding, pure and simple, and adds nothing to the Apocalypse story.

(Can I just jump in here to say how bullshit it is that it’s the three characters who get to work together here? There are four friends who go to the mall together, and thus avoid getting caught by Stryker. Jubilee, another fan favourite character, is one of their group. And yet I’m pretty sure the film never even named her, and she disappeared entirely after the destruction of the school.)

Speaking of the Apocalypse story, this too suffers from the unnecessary padding of the film. When he first ventures into the modern world and encounters Ororo (also never named, iirc) it seems like we’ll get to see how he brings her onto his side – but instead, he gives her power and that’s it, she’s on side with no explaining or convincing. Each of the first three of his Four Horsemen – Storm, Psylocke, and Angel – is turned completely at the first demonstration of his power. There’s no sense of why these characters would go along with his plan to destroy the world. Their recruitment scenes wind up perfunctory, and kind of repetitive. Only the fourth Horseman, Magneto, gets an extended scene convincing him to join – because of course he does, this latest trilogy of X-Men films always likes to make everything about Magneto when it can.

Considering the amount of padding in the film, they had so much room to develop all these characters. Show us how Apocalypse convinces Ororo, what it is about his message that gets to her, and it would become much more meaningful when she turns against him. If they’d spent less time shoehorning in Wolverine cameos and Quicksilver music videos, maybe we could’ve got to know why Angel is the way he is, and maybe we’d know a single damn thing about Psylocke.

This film had a villain whose entire plot was “recruit followers, then use their power to destroy the world”. When there’s little in the way of event in your plot, you make it up with character. Make us empathise, make us understand. Don’t just throw in additional empty action to keep us occupied until you reach the page on your screenplay marked “start climactic battle here”.

(The rest of the film was alright. Not amazing, but certainly not bad.)