One of the things that keeps me going back to the movies, over and over again, are the surprises. Sure, a lot of films are formulaic and not all are especially memorable, but for every “Unforgettable” (it wasn’t) there’s a “Your Name,” a wonderful and complex animated Japanese film that snuck into theatres last month with little fanfare and no press screenings (at least not in our area).
This week managed to deliver another surprise. At one end of the fanfare and budget scale was the blockbuster sequel to 2014’s thoroughly entertaining “Guardians of the Galaxy” and at the other end was “Colossal,” a weird and wonderfully strange little film that’s still stuck in my head days later. Next week may be similar, when “The Wall,” one of the most unusual films about combat and another thought-provoking ride opens against far more mainstream helpings of action and comedy.
When “Guardians of the Galaxy” opened three years ago, it also managed to be surprising. In a genre of comicbook movies that are sometimes overtly gloomy and often benefit from a mental catalog of past adaptations and reboots, it was overwhelmingly light and fun, even when dealing with dark subject matter. But that makes for a tough act to follow and, while “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” is a pretty solid film, it doesn’t have quite that same sparkle.
This time around, the story is primarily focused on Peter Quill’s parentage – more precisely his father and his primary father figure. But that doesn’t make for an especially thrilling story and some of the other elements thrown in for added excitement feel a little forced – including the worst space battle scene since 1984’s “The Last Starfighter.” And I’ve lost track of how many films I’ve seen with an all-powerful being with a very basic vulnerability. All of which makes it sound worse than it is – it’s still fun and likely to please fans, it’s just not as fresh as the first outing, including a shift of most of the comic relief from Star-Lord and Rocket to Baby Groot and Drax, who is now a laughaholic.
By comparison, “Colossal” seems quite restrained in its production scale yet unrestrained in its kookiness. It’s truly an odd film with a premise that will put some people off immediately, or make them dismiss it as just plain silly. Anne Hathaway plays an alcoholic writer, whose addiction is ruining her life and relationships to the point where she moves to her empty childhood home because she apparently has nowhere else to go. Meanwhile, as she stumbles around her small home town, a giant monster of the city-stomping kind suddenly appears in Seoul, South Korea. Watching videos of the beast, in the cold and sober light of the day, she realizes that its movements are strangely identical to her own.
It’s essentially a mashup of a self-destructive relationship film and a B-movie creature feature and it’s a combination that’s fascinating me long after it ended. On the one hand you have to be able to roll with the concept of a character controlling a monster continents away, as well as a pretty weak explanation of why all this is happening, but on the other you also have this really quite twisted look at some fundamentally unhappy people. The destruction of buildings and people in Seoul is like a massively amplified metaphor for the effects that the two main characters have on those around them – both local friends and a population thousands of miles away are collateral damage in a battle largely fueled by self-loathing.
“Colossal” seems unlikely to impress in many of its constituent parts. The special effects seem pretty basic after something as grand as “Guardians,” and the acting from leads Hathaway and Jason Sudeikis, along with supporting actors that include Tim Blake Nelson and Dan Stevens, won’t represent career highs. But the concept from writer/director Nacho Vigalondo carries it all to another level. It may not be the greatest film of the year and it certainly won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, but it’s the kind of film that reminds me how delightfully surprising the medium can be. So I’ll gladly keep wading through fatalistically furious debris for moments like these.