Like many a quality-starved moviegoer, I was intrigued when I first heard of “Super 8.” The trailer looked decent enough, showed off some flashes of impressive graphics and featured a cinematic dream team in writer/director JJ Abrams and executive producer Steven Spielberg. The idea of Abrams, already well established in sci-fi circles, plying his trade under the tutelage of the king of summer blockbusters was enough to momentarily make me forget that some of the other highly anticipated movies for the summer involve Jim Carrey cavorting with laughably fake-looking CGI penguins and Ryan Reynolds making lamp jokes.
Some of the earlier reviews described “Super 8” as an amalgam of Spielberg’s earlier work, combining aspects of past blockbusters such as “E.T.,” ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind,” and “The Goonies.” Unfortunately, what those reviewers failed to mention is that “Super 8” is the “Glee” version of Spielberg’s work, a wholly unnecessary and unenjoyable mess that makes you pine for the original, but appeals to those who value presentation over substance.
One of the major problems with this film is that it tries to juggle too many diverse plot elements. The first quarter of the film is a good-natured romp with a group of ragtag filmmakers set on making a zombie flick so long as SHENANIGANS don’t ensue. All the usual archetypes are present: The geeky kid (so signified by the fact that he wears glasses), the fat kid (signified by the fact that he is fat), the pyromaniac (signified by the fact that he has braces. And explosives, lots of explosives), the shy kid with a dark past who will undoubtedly use any SHENANIGANS as a springboard to learn a lot about life and a little about himself and Elle Fanning, whose eyes reach a circumference usually reserved for anime characters.
Oh, and there’s also another kid, but he’s not important.
Then the movie switches gears so fast it gives the audience whiplash. Just as soon as Little Dakota has finished giving an Oscar-worthy performance acting in the aforementioned zombie flick (and I’m actually being serious, she is fantastic in this scene) a man whips his truck onto the train tracks, derailing the train in spectacular fashion and giving the finger to physics in the process. Oh, he also releases an alien. More on that later.
From here, the movie becomes a typical monster film in the “Cloverfield” style. Ever-so-slowly the monster is revealed, drawing out the tension until finally, as the music builds and the audience can take it no longer…
The monster in this film looks laughable. It’s about as intimidating and realistic as the giant metallic spider in Wild, Wild West only with less Will Smith and more awful effects.
The film explains that the alien crash landed on the planet some time ago, was experimented on and held prisoner because, as it turns out the U.S. Army is…evil?
Long story short, the alien is angry and decides to do his (her? Not sure actually) best Hulk impersonation and cause some good-ole fashioned American havoc.
The movie attempts to balance all of this lovely alien destruction with the heartwarming tale of a boy and his emotionally abusive father, played by Kyle Chandler. While his little boy struggles to cope with his mother’s untimely death (told with all the subtlety of a brick upside the head in the film’s non sequitur opening) his father is off getting into Friday night fights with the military and yelling at him for daring to be friends with Elle Fanning because her father was kind of, sort of not really responsible for his mother’s death.
Of course, I can understand not wanting your children to be friends with Elle Fanning, if only because they might accidentally fall into her vacant expression.
Apparently the film is also supposed to teach the value of confidence, as another erroneous subplot has young protagonist Joe (Joel Courtney) confronting the fact that he is bossed around by his friend Charles (Riley Griffiths). How do I know this is what the film was getting at? Because of one point where the children are crouched in a bombed out house and Joe says he is going off to rescue Elle Fanning from the alien and Charles says “What you don’t need me any more?”
While there is a tad bit of dialogue which leads up to this moment, namely Elle Fanning crawling into Joe’s room like Jenny from Forrest Gump and telling him to not let people boss him around immediately before proceeding to boss him around, it is horrifically misplaced and does nothing to advance either of the characters.
Which brings me to my biggest gripe: the children. They are awful. And not awful like normal children, but awful in that sort of gratingly annoying way where they react in completely unrealistic fashion to the events unfolding around them and spout off bad jokes and verbal barbs at the most inappropriate times imaginable.
Even when attempting to elude live gunfire and the menace of a squishy alien death the children spend more time shouting about how they are not the biggest fans of the events unfolding around them than they do trying to, you know, GET AWAY FROM DANGER.
“Super 8” had promise, it really did, but unfortunately that promise is lost somewhere int he convoluted depths of Abrams’ love letter to Spielberg. In trying to do too much, Abrams ends up doing nothing at all delivering a film that is among the worst to ironically feature “super” in the title.
Oh, and the ending is awful, but at the risk of spoilers I won’t say anything. Interested? You can check it out here.