Less Than ‘Super’
When does homage become shameless ripoff? J.J. Abrams finds out
★ ★ (two of five stars)
Rated PG13/127 min.
Young Joe (played by newcomer Joel Courtney) lost his mother in a tragic accident. His father (Kyle Chandler) is a small town sheriff and strict disciplinarian. Joe’s only escape is making a zombie movie with his cluster of friends, including his dream girl (Elle Fanning). While filming one night in a train yard, they witness a spectacular locomotive crash in which…something is unleashed.
J.J. Abrams directed Super 8, but it has producer Steven Spielberg’s fingerprints all over it. Abrams’s recent Star Trek was a muscular, emotionally charged triumph, and proved he was a director to watch. Super 8 mostly proves that Abrams watched a lot of Spielberg movies growing up.
I wanted to love this movie. Unfortunately, it feels like a rehash of everything from E.T. to The Goonies to Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Homage is one thing, but Abrams’s screenplay is clumsily cobbled together from better films.
The ending is a big disappointment, as the last 30 minutes are clunky, poorly written and oozing with forced sentimentality. The final reel tries hard to mix teary-eyed moments with flashy f/x, but winds up feeling rushed and sloppy.
The studio has kept this the summer’s most top-secret film and I won’t reveal exactly what the “creature” on the loose is. The thing from the train is seen only fleetingly for 80 percent of the running time, which makes it scarier. Once everything is in the open, however, I wanted the creature to go away, so we could get back to the kids.
These young actors are great as is the offbeat love story at the heart of the film. There are two truly terrific scenes. One is the train crash, the most intensely exciting of its kind since The Fugitive. The other is a tremendously moving revelation made while Courtney and Fanning (who’s sensational) watch an old movie together.
The depiction of small town life in the ’80s feels authentic. Really, Super 8 is at its best without the spectacle— it would have been better off as a comedy. The proof of this is The Case, the cheaply made movie-within-a-movie that plays over the end credits—it’s funnier and better than the lavish studio film that preceded it.
Abrams clearly had fun making this—but is it possible he had too much fun? In the end, the result of all his effort is a self-indulgent bit of nostalgia that leaves the audience with very little. ■