FILM REVIEW: ‘Super 8′
For reasons I can’t explain, Super 8 is the film I’ve been most anticipating of the Summer movie season. As the movie got closer to release, I was sure they would release more footage or give some kind of hint as to what the big mystery was. They didn’t. For some reason, I assumed that film reviewers wouldn’t spoil it either. Cautiously, I looked at Variety’s recent review of the film. THE VERY FIRST SENTENCE of the film review spoiled it. I was furious. I didn’t even finish the review or figure out if it was a good review or a bad review. I just couldn’t believe they spoiled it for me. And, while I certainly won’t do that to you, the fact is: it didn’t make a difference. After all, any film that can truly be spoiled isn’t a film worth watching. Super 8 can’t be spoiled. It’s just too much fun.
Super 8 is first and foremost a monster movie. Big special effects, scary sound effects, and a mysterious monster “terrorizing” an unsuspecting town in 1979. There’s plenty of CGI and sci-fi elements, and yet, Super 8 is pure throwback, back to the early days of summer blockbusters, when a cool original concept and some great characters were enough to warrant an “event film.” You don’t need the destruction of the entire world, or even an entire city. You don’t need a comic book property or instantly recognizable brand. Just a handful of preteens running around trying to uncover the greatest mystery of their short little lives.
It’s a good film. I was hoping for a little ET like magic. It’s not there. But that’s because, while it’s certainly heartfelt, Super 8 is not sentimental. It’s actually kind of scary. If you don’t know the plot, it’s this: a handful of kids, while shooting a zombie movie on 8mm film, accidentally witness–and film–a horrifying train crash. The cargo on that train is not from around here. The military rolls into town, keeping their brows furrowed and their mouths shut, and try to clean up the damage. But something has been let loose that will not be taken captive again.
I’m not going to explain the plot anymore than that. The characters are great and are arguably at the center of the film, which will come as no surprise to fans of writer-director J.J. Abrams (Lost, Star Trek). There’s a lot going on in this movie. But, unlike X-Men: First Class–which is a good film, by the way–Super 8 doesn’t have too much going on. It’s just enough. There are a few loose-ends, unexplained plot points, etc. But we know what our characters know, and that’s enough.
Don’t get me wrong: Super 8 isn’t perfect. In all honesty, I was a little disappointed. But my expectations were unreasonably high. It’s a great film, a wonderful homage to Executive Producer Steven Spielberg’s early work, and an exciting, character driven summer blockbuster. But the magic that the trailer had prepared me for wasn’t there in full force. Some key ingredient was missing. And I can’t really put my finger on what it was. The line between a great film and an exceptional film is a vague one, but there’s no ambiguity about which side Super 8 lies on. I’ll keep pondering what it was that held this film back from true greatness. But you, in the meantime, should get your ass to the nearest theater, shove some concessions in your mouth, and enjoy.
Super 8 straddles the line between where popcorn-cinema has been and where it’s going. The train crash at the end of the first act, for instance, had me laughing out loud because it was just so awesome. And yet, unlike Transformers, the effects and action sequences in Super 8 really aren’t there for their own sake. They’re there to tell a story. An original story. And I’ve learned that when J.J. Abrams has a story he wants to tell, I better sit down, shut up, and listen. Super 8 is no exception, and I urge you to do the same. If nothing else, it just might remind you why you started going to movies in the first place.