I didn’t grow up in the 80s. I didn’t grow up with The Goonies, ET, Gremlins, or any of the “classic” Amblin films. I didn’t even grow up with the non-Amblin films, like Stand by Me and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. That’s not to say I don’t adore these films now, but they were before my time. When Super 8 was announced, and more importantly that it was going back to the feel of the 80s, I was excited. I mean, I finally get my own real Amblin film. Not only that, but JJ Abrams was directing with Steven Spielberg producing? It’s fair to say that I had high expectations for this film, but did it live up to them?Super 8 takes place in ’79, about four months after the death of Joe Lamb’s mother. School’s just been let out, and it’s time to finish the zombie film he and his friends are working on. One night when shooting a scene, a train derails in front of them, and just so happens to have some special cargo inside. What happens from that is part coming-of-age tale, part monster movie, and total 80s.
Like every film heavily involving kids, casting is almost everything. They held a national casting call, and that was probably the best idea possible, because every kid feels natural. They never seem like actors, but always kids dealing with a situation larger than what they’re capable of dealing with. Not a single one of them do a bad job here, and even manage to pull the emotional strings missing from the script in the third act (We’ll get there). I’m excited to see where they go from here, especially Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning (Yes, Dakota’s little sister).
It’s hard to discuss the few things I didn’t like in this movie without getting into spoiler territory, but while the third act works overall, it’s not without its share of problems. Part of the last setpiece doesn’t make sense as people keep reloading their weapons (Again, hard to discuss without spoiling a single thing). There’s some emotional connections we’re supposed to have that barely work. The biggest problem involves the alien itself. As an audience we’re supposed to feel a certain way about it, but the film doesn’t give the creature enough personality to have a full effect. It’s works on a thread, but still works. The same goes for the relationship between Joe and his father. The film just barely pulls off the end of their story.
That’s partly due to the action of the film as it pulls away time that could have been spent furthering characters, and giving them more depth. Don’t take that as if the action isn’t good or worth it. It’s quite worth it, and I ate up every setpiece we were given. I love that the alien is seen through glimpses, even if it somewhat takes away from the film’s ending. The train derailment teased in trailers and TV spots doesn’t disappoint. The greatest thing about it is the clarity of knowing where everyone is in relation to others. This is most certainly not a Michael Bay film. And that goes for the end sequence with the military moving in. You know where everything is, and it makes for a great experience.
I feel like I complained more than I wanted to, because yeah, the film is completely mint. Even with its third act problems, Super 8 is an excellent film, and certainly one I’m already wanting to take in again. Thanks to JJ Abrams, I got my Amblin film in all of its 80s glory.