Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence and some drug use.
Super 8 was a nice throwback film with elements of a lot of 80s classics, but in the end it felt like it was missing something.
Joe and his friends are putting together a film using a Super 8 camera when, during the middle of filming a scene at a train station, they see a train derail. In the ensuing chaos, they get a warning from one of their teachers, who ran his car into the train in order to crash it. He says they must run because if anyone finds out they were there, they'll be killed. The military enters the town and takes over the clean-up, but it also appears they're searching for something. Joe's father is the Sheriff of the town and he can't get any answers, but strange things start to happen in the area. People are disappearing, animals are being found hundreds of miles away. When the boys get their film back from that day, they see that a creature was hiding amongst the wreckage. And when the creature kidnaps Joe's crush, the intrepid crew must go on a life-or-death mission to save her, and possibly save others at the same time.
There was a lot of hype surrounding Super 8 mainly because of the director (J.J. Abrams) and the producer (Steven Spielberg) and the fact that no one was really quite sure what this movie would be. From the initial teaser trailer you got the idea this was going to be a monster flick, reminiscent of Cloverfield. The later trailers made it look more like a kids adventure film, along the lines of a Goonies. In the end, it was a mix of both, with a little bit of E.T. thrown in there for good measure. You had a group of kids in a small town, some with issues from their past and present, some who were just goofballs, but all strong friends who would do anything for each other. You had the young teen romance blossoming and then you had a crazy accident leading into an adventure. It's got all the elements of a great film. The kids were all pretty entertaining. Elle Fanning was the real standout as the only girl amongst all the testosterone. The boys were all relatable, either because they reminded you of yourself as a kid, or reminded you of someone you were friends with. And if you've ever lived in the suburbs, you recognize the town, where the majority of the people work for one major corporation and they all look out for each other. Visually the film was pretty good too. It was very dark and moody and even in the daylight there was a feeling that something was going to happen. The movie kept up a pretty good pace as it weaved between the creature that escaped, and adolescent love. I loved the shots where you'd see an entire chunk of the town at once, with a firefight in one corner, the kids running in another, tanks rolling down the street in another. It's that kind of massive scope where the director is assured in his abilities enough to give you a huge visual that I really enjoy.
My biggest issue with the story was that it felt a little too big for these kids. In The Goonies you had a similar situation where you had a group of friends thrown together to solve a mystery. But that mystery was finding a pirate ship. Yes, they had some bad people chasing them, but the mystery they were trying to solve didn't feel overwhelming for that group. In E.T. you had a group of kids trying to save the life of a cute alien. Yes, they were being chased by a group of government agents trying to get the alien for themselves, but the harm was coming from humans who you could reasonably trust (in that particular movie) to not hurt the kids. In Super 8 however, the kids were up against a gigantic alien creature who may or may not be kidnapping and eating people. The 'bad guy' wasn't another human, it was a creature from outer space who didn't look all that friendly. The entire situation felt too big for kids that age to go up against. We've seen all sorts of alien movies where grown men and woman couldn't deal with the creatures and yet here you have a bunch of 12 and 13 year olds who were willing to risk their lives to fight something bigger than a house? It's a movie and it's not supposed to be real life, but it didn't feel possible to me. The movie at one point is forced to show a film made decades earlier that completely explains everything that's going on and that left me feeling a little flat. It was going along so well but then it ground to a halt so basically someone could come on screen and say "OK, this is why this guy crashed the train, and this is why the military is here, and this is why the creature is doing what it's doing... now, back to the movie." And because of that I felt like the rest of the film didn't live up to the beginning. Yes, it was exciting and there were some great action sequences, but by the time the movie ended I kept thinking there was something missing. Some more interaction between the creature and the people that were both trying to hurt it and trying to save it.
THE BOTTOM LINE
So overall I liked Super 8. It felt like the old Spielberg productions of the 80s, but there was something missing, especially from the end, that would have made this a modern day classic.