I feel like I should preface this review with a disclaimer. I love Alias. I love LOST. I quite love Fringe. I watched Undercovers. I love Cloverfield. I quite love Star Trek. I quite love M:I:III. I love the mystery box. You can probably see where I’m going with this.
Struggling to cope with losing a wife/mother in a tragic industrial accident, father Jackson Lamb (Chandler) and son Joe (Courtney) throw themselves into work and play. Heading up the police force in their small town, Jackson is soon about to find himself very busy, while with a local film festival on the horizon, Joe is chief make-up artist and second hand on set for best friend Charles (Griffiths) shooting a zombie movie in time for submission. Sneaking out one night to shoot, however, Joe and his friends witness something far beyond their wildest dreams, putting even their zombie plotline in the mundane.
Derailed by a marauding pickup truck, a sprawling cargo train explodes off the tracks; it’s explosive load causing huge amounts of damage to the station and land around. But before the kids can investigate any further, their biology teacher, and the driver of the truck warns them instantly away, demanding they never speak of this night again. But with strange occurrences soon sweeping across the small town, and extensive inrush of the army, the gang can’t help but try to put two and two together, and when they discover that they accidentally filmed the aftermath, rewatch the footage to discover a terrifying and mysterious monster, whom after kidnapping Joe’s love interest, Alice (fanning), they must track down in an attempt to rescue her, and stop the town falling into total destruction.
Co-produced by Steven Spielberg and his Amblin Entertainment production company, Super 8 wonderfully harks back to the early ‘80s filmmaking style and the days of E.T. and The Goonies. With Abrams’ movie set in 1979, it fits perfectly, sitting comfortably as an homage rather than a rip-job.
The action is powerful and the shot selection throughout, impeccable as always from the master entertainer; this is a smart and clever movie but will still easily please the mainstream.
Abrams’ work is so captivating because he invests so much in the characters, here with a quick plot development prelude that sets up the tone of the film, and introduces the main character arcs seamlessly. You’re happy to be spending two hours with them, in fact, I could quite easily watch a high school comedy/drama about the kids, a small town cop show starring the policeman dad or follow the military from place to place, closing up shop on paranormal and extraterrestrial entities. Despite being a monster movie, Super 8 has emotion at its core, not an alien as the focal narrator.
It’s this that is the key to success in most action or monster movies like this; if you’re absorbed in the characters then you care what happens to them when they inevitably fall into danger.
The pace of the narrative and plot development throughout the film is similarly well crafted. Master of the reveal, Abrams teases little snipped throughout the first act, while and there’s significant payoff, in terms of the alien and the central characters, at the close.
With young kids at the film’s core, the acting talents of the mainstay cast was always going to be integral to Super 8’s success, and to say the film was the first proper acting job for much of them, they each do a remarkable job. All effortlessly filling their boots, though a great performance might have been expected of the much more experience Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney is a revelation, while newcomer Riley Griffiths is equally impressive.
Seasoned fans (which if you hadn’t guessed from my introduction, certainly includes myself) of J.J. will find that extra nugget too, that he so regularly sneaks into all of his projects. With numerous Easter eggs throughout, look out for Cloverfield’s Slusho in the gas station, John Locke’s name along the way, and if you’re eagle-eyed enough, even Leonard Nemoy makes a brief appearance.
A little heavy on the lens flare, but that doesn’t matter at all, you’ll want to hang back for the credits, as Charles and his friends’ film plays alongside the scrolling sequence, as J.J. Abrams next step to super stardom draws to a close. Super 8 is a complex movie about family issues, young love and friendship, that just happens to have a strange monster running around in the background. And boy is it worth the ride.