by Ryan Hill
J.J. Abrams’ “Super 8” is a throwback to the early films of Steven Spielberg, such as “E.T.,” “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “The Goonies.”
The film follows the adventures of a ragtag group of adolescents who, while shooting a homemade movie, capture the crash of a train carrying an extraterrestrial being. Set in 1979, “Super 8” tries to recapture the innocence and wonderment of Spielberg films of that time period.
It should come as no surprise that Spielberg is an executive of the film, which stars Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning as Joe and Alice, two of a group of friends caught in the middle of mysterious happenings around town, such as power outages and disappearing residents.
As the U.S. Air Force moves into town, Joe, Alice and their “Goonies” group of friends try to solve the mystery of the train wreck alongside Joe’s Deputy father (played by Kyle Chandler of “Friday Night Lights,” an Emmy nominee who deserves to be a leading man as soon as possible).
The movie is rife with the same recurring themes as a Speilberg film – father issues, parents too wrapped up in their own business to notice their children or parents so angry or hurt they want to send their kids away to avoid the pain.
Most of this drama plays out over the first half of the film, but as it progresses, the film feels more like typical Abrams fare, filled with thrills, action, mystery and a big, scary monster – an Abrams staple since “Cloverfield.”
The melding of the ideologies between Spielberg and Abrams doesn’t quite go like clockwork, as Abrams clearly struggles with the Spielberg elements of the film and doesn’t really catch his footing until the action and special effects kick into high gear.
Courtney, making his screen debut, holds his own as the lead in the film, but it’s the performances of Fanning – who’s going to give big sister Dakota a run for her money in the talent department – and Chandler that ground the film in enough reality to make “Super 8” a highly entertaining film that packs just as much drama and comedy as it does action.
Having Spielberg serve as executive producer is an inspired decision by Abrams, but it’s also what keeps the film from achieving true greatness. The juxtaposition of Spielberg’s innocence and Abrams’ in-your-face shocks and action clash throughout the film, but the two approaches mesh together well enough to make for a very satisfying summer film.
Grade: 3.5/4 stars