Super 8 – A ReviewBy
My review of Super 8. Spoiler tags applied and hidden until later.
In the simplest of terms, I adored this movie. Let me start off there because you’ll be able to better appreciate the gushing that is about to follow. Everything you have heard about this being a throwback movie is spot on, with a few notable exceptions. The tone of this movie feels ripped from my childhood of Spielberg, Zemeckis, Donner and Lucas (before he stopped caring) movies built for kids but not childish. The kids talk in believable ways and the filmmakers don’t feel the need to break the fourth wall to make elementary school level jokes or go for the typical overacting child annoyances. It is a thrill ride rooted in heart and these days, that’s a rare thing.
Now before you think I’m waxing too nostalgic about days of yore, consider the state of kid friendly movies for a moment. What is the last truly great one that comes to mind? (Pixar excluded) For me, the last truly greats have been few and far between. (The Sandlot, Matilda, etc) There have been a few decent offerings in terms of Harry Potter, Pirates of the Caribbean, comic adaptations and the occasional better than it deserves to be PG- 13 or lower comedy. But take into account that these are usually based on the sum of their parts and rooted in spectacle that takes away from any chance at real drama and heartfelt feeling. CG Pirate ships, Wizardry magic and usually at least one child actor that just screams at the camera. With Super 8, I feel like they made a kids adventure movie first and a spectacle movie second. Make no mistake, this movie certainly offers a lot more explosions and destruction en masse than any actual movie from Spielberg’s heyday of family movie magic, but this maintains that kind of magic while delivering the boom that modern movie audiences have come to expect from the average summer blockbuster.
Now to get into more specific talking points and potential spoiler territory as I feel the less you know going in on this one, the better.
The younger actors in this are fantastic. Joel Courtney as Joe is mostly stoic and harkens back to Henry Thomas as Elliott in E.T. Meaning, it’s not exactly what you’d call a standout performance but he does his part and invokes emotion when needed. Solid performance and he could be one to watch as this is his first role. The real standout here is Elle Fanning. She’s spent most of her acting career being the younger sister of Dakota but here she brings a performance that’s subtle in just how good it is. She plays the role of Alice fairly low key and reserved but in her role in the movie within the movie that the kids are filming, she allows herself to let loose her bottled up emotions. These eventually appear as she finds herself comfortable around Joe and it makes for a nice character arc that you don’t typically see a range of in younger actors. Just a great performance and it will forever establish her as an actor to watch in my opinion. The pyromaniac friend, Cary played by Ryan Lee, is especially fun as well.
I know what you’re curious about if you’re reading the spoiler section despite my warnings. The monster. The creature. The mystery box of the movie. Well, imagine if jaws were a creature that you weren’t already familiar with. That’s the creature of Super 8. It’s left shrouded in mystery for the majority of the film. Abrams actually goes out of his way (to comic effect sometimes) to not show more than a fleeting glance of it throughout most of the first half. In the end, it’s an alien. Nothing special, just a traveler who crashed its ship on Earth, was captured by the government and held against its will for testing. This is a clichéd enough origin but motivation enough to have a pissed off powerful creature that apparently has some telepathic and other otherworldly skills. Oh and he’s a carnivore so that’s an issue for us meatbags. The creature is portrayed as sympathetic but still a threat. Not the warm cuddly E.T. but not the destroyer of worlds from Independence Day. I’d liken it to a MacGuffin with feelings. Eventually, as a result of the train crash everyone has seen in the previews, he escapes, does some damage to the town and tries to rebuild his spaceship so he can GTFO. The creature is a mostly singularly purposed plot device that causes a bit of chaos on its quest.
If I were forced to come up with complaints for this movie, I suppose I would offer a few if pressed. Mainly, this is a J.J. Abrams movie, so expect lens flare. The first night scene was a bit out of control but he seemed to ease off a little after that. Thankfully, unlike Star Trek before this, the flare is limited to scenes at night or otherwise dimly lit areas. The film is made to look like it came from 1979 (albeit a bit crisper) so charging down to your Digital Xtreme Imax Super HD theater may feel like a waste of your money. This is how we saw it but those were the choices for the day early screening. It doesn’t look bad I.E. Grindhouse, but it certainly isn’t going to wow you with fidelity.
Also, regarding 1979, much as we lamented in the plot of Hot Tub Time Machine, it seems EVERYTHING in 1979 happens in the span of this movie. We get it, it’s a period piece. Not every piece of music or technology created then needs to appear. Yes, we know that Blondie came out. Yes, we know that My Sharona came out. Oh hey, what’s this crazy Walkman thing?! No need to be quite so obvious. Not a deal breaker but just try a bit more subtlety in the future when making time capsule movies.
Still, this is a movie I highly recommend.
The alien gets home, the kids and dads reconcile and everyone lives mostly happily ever after (well except the few who got eaten or squashed). There’s a tug at the heartstrings scene at the end that may disgust you if you’ve given in to full cynicism at this point in your life but I think if you can open yourself up to just being a kid again, you’ll enjoy yourself. If you have kids, take them. For too long we’ve rubber padded movies for their protection so it’s nice to have a few scares (without much gore) and kids dropping the occasional “shit”, “pussy” and one well placed “fuck.” They won’t turn to drugs, they won’t murder their teachers. They’ll go on with their lives just like when you saw Stand By Me and remember it fondly.