Dir. by J.J. Abrams - 1 hr. 52 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
"Super 8" wasn't exactly what I was expecting, based on the trailer, and thank goodness. It ended up being much, much better. Generally speaking, movies heavily featuring children aren't something I'm eager to watch. In this case, writer/director J.J. Abrams pulls a Tarantino, taking stock movie elements and turning them into something clever, suspenseful, and highly entertaining.
The movie opens in the aftermath of tragedy, the death of a parent. With that hanging over one of the characters, Joe (Joel Courtney) and Charles (Riley Griffiths) continue working on their zombie short film. While shooting a scene late at night, they find themselves at ground zero of a train derailment, which turns their small town upside down. Dogs (as in all of them) run away from home, appliances go missing, and the military shows up to lock things down. All of the kids seem at least mostly focused on completing their movie, until the plot threads intersect. At this point, they're drawn into things largely out of their control, but aren't completely stymied by it.
Points of praise: the characters all had their own motivations, and weren't just there to further the plot. That's something that frequently gets lost in more fantastical movies, but each person acting consistently in a way that makes sense definitely helped to build drama. Also, the batch of teenagers that held up most of the film did a good job, and Abrams has a deft touch with their dialogue. Overall, the movie didn't sag, even in slower parts. The run-time flew by, which is key for action-oriented movies. And, most importantly, they ran the entire zombie movie the kids were shooting during the credits, which was a riot.
I don't have anything to complain about with "Super 8"; it's a quality mainstream summer action movie, and one that doesn't insult your intelligence. That's too rare of a feat. The children didn't turn into superheroes, the emotionally heavy scenes weren't sledgehammers over the head, the fantastic elements were handled well (in the vein of the original "Alien" movie). It's just a job well done, and I'd like to see this one again.
4 / 5 - Theatre