With such dismal and unimaginative films as Transformers and The Smurfs dominating multiplexes across the globe, it seems as if the “summer movie” is going through a famine of creativity. However, JJ Abrams’ Super 8 is a buffet table of mystery, suspense, action, and genuine drama and emotion that harkens back to the golden days of the Hollywood blockbuster.
Set in a breezy Ohio suburb at the end of the seventies, Super 8 follows a group of teenage amateur filmmakers who witness a horrific train crash. Even though the Air Force claim that it was nothing more than an accident, a series of mysterious vanishings and an increasing military presence in the town leads the kids and the local police department into suspecting that something more sinister is afoot and they take the investigation into their own hands.
To reveal much more of the plot would not only undermine Abrams’ masterfully enigmatic marketing campaign, but tarnish your enjoyment of the film as a great deal of Super 8’s two hour runtime is dedicated to the slow and measured unwinding of the mystery behind the train crash.
It’s refreshing to see a filmmaker in this age of hyperactive action fests take their time with a story and allow their characters to grow organically. Don’t let the trailers fool you, Super 8 is not a film wholly concerned with spectacle—although the scattered action scenes are incredible. The film’s narrative thrust is centred on Joe (Joel Courtney), a boy who has just lost his mother and is growing ever-distant from his father, coming to terms with the crumbling of his family and finding forgiveness, acceptance, and love, who comes in the form of the equally troubled Alice (Elle Fanning).
Abrams juggles the disparate plot strands of the crash and Joe’s character development perfectly in the first three quarters of the film, but he is ultimately let down by the final twenty minutes where everything comes together a little too neatly and a little too quickly.
The intrigue and carnage seem to exist only as narrative devices to propel Joe towards his catharsis and after such a lengthy and suspenseful build-up, the rushed, and frankly confusing, ending feels anticlimactic. When the mystery is revealed, the film loses its momentum and instead of thundering into its final act, it stumbles and after such a strong opening, you can’t help but think of could-have-been’s and what if’s.
That said, the no-name cast is excellent with the three child leads, Joe, Alice, and George A. Romero wannabe Charles (Riley Griffiths), being particularly brilliant. Their undeniable chemistry bursts off the screen and there’s not a single Daniel Radcliffe-esque wooden line to be found.
With Steven Spielberg acting as an Executive Producer and the film’s pre-digital setting, there was always going to be a certain element of mawkish childhood nostalgia in Super 8, and even though it does veer very close to puke-inducing sentimentality at times, you can’t help but get swept up by its charm. Much like how Inception proved last year that summer blockbusters need not be mindless, Super 8 shows that films can still have a heart.
Super 8 is a master class in exposition, containing some of the finest child actors working today and a good, old-fashioned, Spielbergian character-driven plot. Unfortunately, it’s all sabotaged by the ending which fails to live up to the promise of the first half. Regardless, it’s a film definitely worth seeing, even if it is a not-so-super 7 rather than a super 8.
7 out of 10