The latest film from Star Trek revivalist and Lost mystery maestro J.J. Abrams is Super 8, a film steeped in nostalgia and homage. It is even produced by the person responsible for so many of the films that inspired this anachronistic love letter to the ‘80s, Steven Spielberg.
Though set in the summer of ‘79, Super 8’s heart is right there with Mikey, Mouth, Data and Chunk of the Spielberg-produced, kids-cursing classic The Goonies. Thirteen-year-old Joe (played well by newcomer Joel Courtney) has just lost his mother and spends the following summer avoiding his distant Deputy father by helping his highly motivated misfit friends film a zombie movie. When the charming lads are shooting a scene by the train tracks, they inadvertently witness and film a US Air Force train crash, explode, tumble and, in a gratuitous display of pyrotechnics, barely avoid crushing the little Spielbergs. Of course, in true Abrams fashion, weird occurrences that raise many questions soon plague the small Midwestern town of Lillian.
That’s really all you need to know as far as plot goes. Abrams is no slouch at weaving a good mystery (it’s wrapping them up where he sometimes falters), but his main talent lies in telling a simple and familiar story in an exciting way. This is true for Super 8 as well, where he borrows liberally from the Bruce the Shark book of leaving the monster to the imagination, and casts a wonderfully naturalistic bunch of foulmouthed kids who actually seem to be having fun. Unfortunately, the kids aren’t used nearly enough (with the main focus being Joe’s crush on Elle Fanning’s Alice) and a few of the scenes feel less like a big budget summer blockbuster and more like The X-Files (take that how you will).
Which is to say, despite the overt nostalgia, which plays better to the late twenty-somethings than to kids who are the stars’ ages, this film is pure Abrams, complete with the lens-flair fetishism, a somewhat maudlin finale and a mostly funny and exciting film that is very nearly as good as the ones that inspired it (at least for those of us who know what the title is referring to).