What can I say? It’s a terrific movie. JJ Abrams, clearly trying to channel some of the magic from vintage Amblin Entertainment films, has made a monster movie with the heart of a Spielberg narrative. The result isn’t perfect but it’s still a wonderful film.
It’s said that Abrams had two separate films in mind, then decided to combine them: one film about some kids making a movie, and another about an escaped monster from outer space. The two distinct films are present in SUPER 8, and admittedly when the two finally combine inextricably the product isn’t necessarily as strong as its parts. The kids’ story is magical, completely channeling some of the small-town and childhood magic from films like E.T. and Jaws and Goonies. The fictional small steel town outside of Dayton feels as real as Amity or the California suburb of E.T. It helps that the kids are great. Elle Fanning is of course the most experienced of the child actors, but they’re all terrific and their interplay works very well. Kyle Chandler — who plays the deputy sheriff of the small town and father of the main boy (Joel Courtney) — is perfectly cast. From Friday Night Lights we already know that Chandler has parental gravitas and skilled acting, and here he is dead on. It’s when telling the story of the town and the kids that Abrams most successfully brings to mind the best elements of Spielberg.
The monster aspects are also well accomplished, but not nearly as much so. Abrams here deviates from the craft of his mentor Spielberg, instead relying on monster cliches from his own Cloverfield and Star Trek (indeed the monster here looks sort of the same, and we even have to suffer through the same roar-into-the-camera shot as seen ad nauseum in those other movies). That said, action scenes are taut and interesting, and ultimately the mystery of the monster is pulled off — if not quite as seamlessly as the other elements of SUPER 8. Ultimately the film works well, though some may wonder if the two separate storylines wouldn’t have been better off without each other.
This summer has seen some decent movies: THOR, X-MEN: FIRST CLASS among others. SUPER 8 is heads and shoulders above these other movies and will likely be the best film you see this summer. See it before your soul is irrevocably tainted by CGI monstrosities like the next Transformers movie or, heaven help us all, THE SMURFS. Abram’s newest movie doesn’t quite belong in the pantheon of Spielberg masterpieces, but it’s a film with heart. More of these, please.