‘Super 8’ was one of my must see films of the summer. It’s a film I’ve been following for months leading up to release because it is the latest project from director J.J. Abrams. Abrams is a filmmaker I’ve been a fan of ever since he created a few tv shows that you might be familiar with: ‘Felicity’, ‘Alias’ and ‘Lost’.
Abrams made the leap to the big screen with ‘Mission Impossible 3’ a few years back and his last film was the rebooted, monster hit ‘Star Trek’. With both of those films Abrams breathed new life into two aged franchises and made them fun and exciting again. He also had a large hand in creating and bringing ‘Cloverfield’ to the big screen although he did not direct it.
‘Super 8’ was both written and directed by Abrams. Abrams’ mentor throughout its creation was none other than Steven Spielberg himself. ‘Super 8’ has been billed as a throwback to an era of films when life seemed a little simpler and films were made about kids who had great adventures e.g., ‘The Goonies’ and ‘E.T.’ (both films not so coincidentally created by Spielberg) In fact ‘Super 8’ takes that time period so seriously it is set in the late 1970’s.
‘Super 8’ is somewhat difficult to review without totally spoiling the plot which relies heavily on mystery. It is really two story lines mashed together. One story follows the adventures of a group of kids who are making their own Super-8 zombie movie the other story centers around a sinister government coverup that ensues after a mysterious train crash. The first half of the film is mostly dedicated to getting to know and care about the kids. The last half deals with the kids getting thrown into the action.
For me the first half was a wonderful success. The kids are all likable, very natural and never felt like they were acting. In fact they’re so good a couple of them are actually bad actors in the scenes when they’re filming their zombie film. I think it really takes some chops to be an actor portraying a character who’s portraying being a bad actor. The stand out however is Elle Fanning. Although she’s not the main character she is sensational as “Alice Dainard”. In many ways Abrams nails the look and feel of the time period and the characters fit in it well. Abrams skill really shines at quiet intimate moments that ground the characters and really make you feel something for them. An excellent example being a scene when two of the characters reveal they both have feelings for Alice. At times I was delightfully reminded of a classic film of the era: Stand By Me.
Once the full mystery of ‘Super 8’ is revealed it shifts into full action mode which consists mostly of the fine cast reacting to the craziness around them. Although the action is inventive at times, I just didn’t find it as resonating as the first half which initially plays like a very strong coming of age drama. In some ways I think I would have enjoyed ‘Super 8’ more had it just continued with the the first half without the added action.
The Bottom Line:
Abrams signature is to tease and let things unravel a little at a time holding his cards close until the exact moment he throws down the winning hand. Going into ‘Super 8’ I was really hoping that hand would be a Royal Flush. Instead it’s more like a Full House, a winning hand but not nearly as satisfying.
Rated PG-13: In theaters now.
ps – Be sure to stay while the credits roll.