Now this is what I’m talking about. With Super 8, we have the rarest of movies. It’s an action film, with explosions and monsters and guns; a coming of age film, with tweens and adolescent humor and squeaky voices; a serious drama, with foreboding stares and confrontational tears and moody lighting; and it is, above all else, absolutely brilliant.
Mark this occasion, because it only happens once a year (if we’re lucky), but Super 8 is a perfect summer blockbuster. It’s fast paced, accurately written, thrillingly edited, boldly acted, and concluded just right.
Loyal readers of this blog know that I detest most summer blockbusters, which can be attributed to one simple fact: the majority of them treat us like complete morons. It’s been increasingly disheartening to watch such nonsense rake in hundreds of millions of dollars. Such large box office draws only lead to one thing: more garbage. It’s a vicious cycle that Hollywood execs have been cashing in on for decades. But originality, as it’s related to this genre, is utterly dead, which is why a movie like Super 8 (and Inception last year) is a welcome shot of adrenaline to the heart.
I’ll let my pontificating cease, as to not get ahead of myself.
While filming a pivotal scene for their epic zombie-invasion film, a group of articulate middle schoolers escape near death when a massive military train derails in their small town. (The town, for the record, is never established. Neither is the year. Which is great. Think about it, how many action movies have you seen that show the White House then flash the words: WASHINGTON D.C.? Really… I thought we were in Bangladesh).
Once the dust has settled, the film’s main subject, Joe Lamb (played astonishingly by newcomer Joel Courtney) witnesses something bust through a metal door on the train and escape into the woods. The military soon invades the town, conspicuously investigating the crash while dodging inquires from the town’s people, namely Joe’s cop dad (Kyle Chandler), still burning with anger and resentment from the sudden death of his wife four months earlier.
A slew of attacks from the (unseen) monster occur, people go missing, dogs run away, tanks roam the streets; but the show most go on, so the kids keep the camera rolling.
While Super 8 is bound to be compared to E.T., a far more accurate comparison would be Stand by Me, one of the last mainstream films to so perfectly nail the way small town teenagers talk and act. The kids in Super 8 are quite a group. There’s the overweight, bossy director, the brace-faced pyromaniac, the overachieving nerd, the blonde bombshell they all crush on, and the reserved, motherless romantic.
It would be so incredibly easy for writer/director J.J. Abrams to underwrite the child characters, to simply give them a few lines of exposition dialogue only to progress the plot. But thankfully for us, Abrams spends time developing each character; we actually get to know these kids. We identify with their profanity-laced humor, their sexual curiosity, and their longing to fit in. A quick search on IMDB shows that most of the young actors in Super 8 are unknowns. Incredible. You may have heard of Elle Fanning, who after this and Somewhere is giving her older sister a serious run for her money as the most impressive child actress working in movies.
I could fill three more pages detailing all the ways that Super 8 gets it right (I haven’t even touched on the tumultuous relationship between Joe and his dad, which is unflinching and honest), but where’s the fun in that? Super 8 needs to be experienced, in the theatre, by everyone. It’s for people who love blockbusters, and the people who’ve lost hope in them.
I will mention one final thing. Much like Stand by Me, the monster in Super 8 is completely secondary. Stand by Me isn’t about four friends trying to find a dead body. It’s about the journey, the progression. Super 8 is just like that. Once the monster is seen and the mystery is revealed, that isn’t nearly as impressive as the journey we’ve just watched the kids take. God bless J.J. Abrams, the man got it right. A-
(Note: don’t leave when the credits begin. There’s more.)