‘Super 8′ Review

Published 4 years ago by , Updated June 11th, 2011 at 1:09 pm,

Super 8 reviews Super 8 Review

Screen Rant’s Kofi Outlaw Reviews Super 8

Super 8 has had something of a confusing marketing campaign leading up to its release. Some people know it as ‘that J.J. Abrams and Steven Spielberg movie,’ while others know it as ‘that Goonies-meets-ET‘ throwback flick.’ Then there are others (many others) who won’t have the faintest idea what this film is all about.

As with any movie, it’s important to approach Super 8 with your expectations properly aligned to what the film has to offer – and in this case, that offering is a mix of nostalgia, thrills, and good-old-fashioned movie magic, conjured by a cast of charmingly funny and talented young actors.

Despite all of its creature-feature promises, the story of the film is classic Spielbergian drama: in 1970s small-town Ohio, young Joe Lamb (newcomer Joel Courtney) loses his mother in a tragic accident. Joe’s father, deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler), is broken by the loss, and buries his pain beneath his role as the town’s stalwart protector. Alone and neglected, young Joe finds his own ways to displace his grief – mainly by clutching onto a locket his mother wore, and by aiding his friend Charles (Riley Griffiths) in making an amateur super 8 movie called “The Case,” which the boys hope to submit to a local film festival.

One night, Joe, Charles, and the rest of their crew (Cary, a pyro, Martin, a worry-wort, and Preston, a goody-two-shoes) decide to sneak away to film a pivotal scene out by the train station. The boys are joined by a girl (of course): Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning), a skilled actress who happens to be the rebellious daughter of the town drunk…and Joe’s secret crush.

Everything is “mint” (you’ll hear that term a lot in this film) until a pickup truck swerves onto the tracks and derails an oncoming train. In the aftermath of the destruction, the kids learn that this accident was no accident, and that the train was not your average train. They narrowly escape the scene before the military locks it down, but soon after, their town is plagued by a series of mysterious occurrences that force the kids to face an unimaginable situation – one that will inevitably bring Joe and his father face-to-face with their issues.

Super 8 Train Crash scene Super 8 Review

The epic train crash scene in 'Super 8'

Let’s be clear: Super 8 is not the sci-fi monster movie that some people may be expecting. There is indeed a strange creature terrorizing the kids’ town, but this plot thread is mostly used for narrative drive, and the creature itself is seldom shown in the film (until the climax, of course).  What the movie chooses to focus on instead, is how this group of kids bond and develop during this extraordinary event – especially Joe and Alice, whose budding romance (and all the problems it causes) is more of a “Romeo & Juliet” story.

Some people may read that description and feel like Super 8 is another bait-and-switch film that promises one thing and delivers another. How a movie is marketed is another topic, but it’s clear in the film that the intention of the filmmakers (Abrams and to lesser extent Spielberg) is to pay homage to ’80s movies like The Goonies, which told coming of age tales by placing children in fantastical (often dangerous) situations. And, as with any coming of age story, the odds of the film’s success rest heavily on the shoulders of its young cast.

The kid characters in Super 8 are pretty thinly drawn – sad kid, crazy kid, egotistical kid, scared kid, etc. – however the young actors playing them are pretty solid. The kids are at once ’70s vintage and very modern, using old slang (“mint!”) combined with a  modern edge (some profanity, but nothing too offensive). Several of the kids are very charismatic (Griffiths as Charles and Ryan Lee as pyromaniac Cary steal just about every scene they’re in), and the two leads (Courtney and Fanning) are downright talented. Their puppy-love romance has many layers of grief, guilt, loneliness and longing bubbling under the surface, and the movie’s best moments come from watching Joe and Alice connect over their pain.

Super 8 Kids cast Super 8 Review

The kids of 'Super 8'

As a newcomer, Courtney isn’t the greatest when it comes to nuance and subtlety – but thankfully the script calls for Joe to be mostly numb and blank-faced instead of openly emotional; his feelings are instead expressed through symbolic means, such as the locket he clutches for comfort. Elle Fanning (the sister of Dakota Fanning) is leagues ahead of the boys, and Abrams wisely puts most of the heavier moments in the film on her shoulders and lets her carry them home. Definite star potential there.

The adults in the film (like the creature) are mostly used for backdrop and filler moments in the story. Kyle Chandler continues to be one of the better actors working today, and pulls off a character arch that is so understated you have to watch his eyes and the very lines of his face to pick out the complexity of what’s going on in deputy Lamb’s troubled head. Ron Eldard similarly does well playing Alice’s dad, Louis Dainard, who he manages to lift out of the realm of cliche (the town drunk / abusive father) up to an equally complex and nuanced performance.

Other faces pop up here and there – Noah Emmerich as the evil military commander, Richard T. Jones as his henchman, other recognizable faces as the townspeople – but they’re not exactly well-developed, interesting or even memorable. The exception is maybe David Gallagher as Donny, the town pothead, a bit part that is milked for maximum hilarity. While the lack of depth in a lot of the characters is noticeable, it isn’t all that disappointing since the young protagonists are really the focus here.

Super 8 Courtney Fanning Chandler Eldard Super 8 Review

Chandler, Courtney, Fanning and Eldard in 'Super 8'

For the most part, J.J. Abrams pulls off a good balance of light humor, drama that’s never too heavy, and some good jump-in-your-seat thrills here and there. The downside is that the final act of the movie devolves into a standard sci-fi action chase, complete with a Spielberg-brand, gooey feel-good ending that does away with a lot of the great foundation built beneath it. However, this is often the case with stories that hinge on some kind of central mystery: the revelations are rarely as satisfying as the anticipation. The creature (for all the mystery surrounding it) isn’t all that impressive, and for some, the character transitions will feel rushed or unearned (I found them to be subtle and nuanced, but that’s just me).

Overall, though, Super 8 is a pretty enjoyable movie experience and the young characters at its center are pretty entertaining. The story is nothing new or revolutionary, but the element of nostalgia is a favorable one. Oh, and for those wondering: Yes, Abrams still manages to fit some of his signature “lens flares” into the movie. Take that how you will.

If you’re still on the fence about whether or not to see Super 8, check out the trailer below. If you want to know more about the film’s mysterious creature, watch this revealing viral video.

Finally, to discuss the movie in detail without worrying about ruining it for those who haven’t seen it yet, head over to our Super 8 spoilers discussion.

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Our Rating:

4 out of 5

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  1. Now I have got to see this……….. never was any doubts about it though. 😉

  2. Hmmmmm, I’ve read several reviews like this, I’m not getting what’s to love about it at all. Abrams did a brilliant job with Star Trek, but I hated his Mission Impossible, and while I know he did have all that much to do with Lost overall, I still blame him for inflicting it on the world.

    As this isnt out in the UK for TWO MONTHS I’ll probably give a download at some point, I might have gone to see it htis weekend out of curiousity but might just see X-Men again instead :)

    • The kids are the selling point of the film. If you don’t like that (or their performances) there isn’t much to see here.

      • Well, hopefully I’ll get to see it eventually. The trailers just haven’t grabbed me at all. Abrams needs to drop everything he is doing and make some more Star Trek !!!!!!

        • Wow u liked Xmen enough to see it twice!?

          • Yup. I really did. :)

            • X-Men really was better than I expected to to be.

          • I saw it twice.

          • I’d agree with Sam on that. I’m definitely going to see it again.

        • Abrams needs to drop everything he is doing and make some more Star Trek !!!!!!

          Truer words have never been spoken!

      • yeah i agree, the film was about these kids and personally this over saturated the movie. God I hate this soppy love nonsense especially with young kids. Abrams did fantastic on the star trek reboot film but this was just an average film – not worth rushing to see in my opinion.

    • I gotta agree with you Doc. I loved what he did with Mission Impossible. He gave a spy film a personal feel. I think mostly by involving Ethan’s family in it.

      But i’m on the fence about this one. I’m getting a very mediocre feeling which means it’ll probably be a rental. No reason to spend 18 bucks on a film if it’s only so-so.

      Thanks for the review, Kofi.

    • @ DrSamBeckett,

      When it comes to “Star Trek ’09”, I see it as a failure and success. Since all he did was repackage older elements, with slight twists, I do not think the movie fixed the franchise. Sure, “Star Trek ’09” was an exciting adventure, but it lacked ‘Star Trek’ in all its glory.

      J.J. Abrams, Roberto Orci, and Alex Kurtzman have a little secret. While people are celebrating their pilot films, they all have failed miserably when it comes to sequels. “Mission Impossible III” and “Transformers II” are two prime examples of complete failures.

      “Super8″ looks like a fun family movies. What is driving me away from this movie are a few things: (1) Its being sold as science-fiction, but its actually about family and teen anxiety; (2) Lens flares get in the way of enjoying the environments; and (3) J. J.’s pride needs to be humbled.

      • Repackaged with new twists? How can you not repackage some elements when it was in fact a Star Trek movie? He used a villian that wasn’t used before with more than slight twists on all of the characters, and those slight twists were very original and pivoted on the entire premise of the movie. J.J. did an amazing job with Star Trek and we should all be lucky enough for him to do another.

        • “He used a villian that wasn’t used before…” ~Timothy

          What, a Romulan with a grudge against the Federation? How many times have we seen that one? “Star Trek: TNG & DS9″ was filled with those types of episodes. Again, it was nothing new. Just repackaged.

          (1) Time-travel was used a thousand times.
          (2) Romulans ticked off at Kirk and the Federation has been used a thousand times.
          (3) Massive planet destroying ship created by the Romulans was used in “ST: Nemesis”.
          (4) Earth’s fate hangs in the balance was used hundreds of times.
          (5) Kirk getting into a bar fight was used a few hundred times.

          Its been done before.

          • Not the way Abrams went about it though, it was completely original, not to mention the amazing visuals. I suggest you just don’t watch the movie as you clearly have no taste and would do it injustice by viewing it.

  3. I’m going today. I can’t wait. Hopefully this can do good at the box office. I’m afraid it will get lost in the season of superheroes, sequels, and adaptations.

  4. I hope to see this movie this weekend! :)

  5. Good review!!! I am going this weekend!!

  6. The one thing i dont like about this review, is that Kofi told wayy too much of the plot in this article. Its a good thing i stopped reading it, and jus skimmed through it so i wont be spoiled.

    But i’m still much very so looking foward to watching this movie. Now JJ Abrams can focus on star trek 2 =]

    • Are you kidding? I gave away only what the trailer below does. At this point everybody knows that this is a monster movie combined with a kid adventure. And if you want to have it be a mystery, why read a review in the first place?

      • I was actually just about to say that I thought you did a good job of not putting any spoilers in, which is nearly impossible to do with any kind of review.

        • Great review Kofi I’m excited to see this movie.

        • “Ditt” to the “O”

    • The only minor spoiler I can say about Kofi’s review is that the creature shows up at the end. I don’t really see that as a spoiler, though.

  7. Very nicely written review, I thought.

    This sounds like my mom’s kind of movie… as there’s been a shortage of new movies for her lately, I might take her to this and watch it with her.

    • Lol, my brothers and I drag my mom to whatever we want to watch, including Priest. I think she enjoys complaining about it to us.

      • You took your mother to see Priest? And she didn’t disown you? 😀

      • Danny, is your mother Evelyn, from Two and a Half Men?

      • I take my mom to watch some of the superhero ones sometimes… but I think she’s tired of it now, even though she enjoyed Spider-Man, the Dark Knight, and Iron Man.

        But I think she’s had enough of them now lol. I feel kind of bad that she’s not getting HER usual movies as much… they are right about there being a “story crisis” lately in Hollywood.

  8. I concur with Kofi’s review.

  9. The review makes it sound like a rental for me. Luckily, I have a free ticket, so I will be checking this out this weekend, and save my money for Green Lantern next week.

    • Kahless, its the opposite for me, GL is a Netflixer, this one I am gonna see tomorrow before noon, $5.75 😉

  10. This review was spot on. I went to see this with the family last night. My advice to anyone who’s going to see it is to save the money and see it at your regular theater and not IMAX. I really like the film and recommend it to anyone who wants to see a fun summer movie that is not a sequel or based on a comic. While it does have the Spielberg feel to it, Abrams does a great job and it feels fresh and modern. But like I said before save the money and see it on 35mm…

  11. After 17 years of marriage my wife informed me last night that she has NEVER seen E.T. (I saw it in theatres originally but have never rented it)

    I duly informed her that certain movies (including Super 8) will not be screened until she has fully disclosed what other cases of cinematic neglect she is guilty of and have promptly righted these wrongs.

    When Star Wars IV, V and VI was being re-released in the mid-1990s prior to the Pre-quels a friend of mine discovered his wife had never seen any of the Star Wars movies. Ever. At all. Not even a trailer. He fixed that right quick. They went to a triple-header the moment it played in a theatre near them.

    “Who’s ‘Darth Vader’?” – Who says something like that?!

    • Replace the dude in sunglases with a number eight (8).

  12. just saw this and i gtta say kofi, this review is spot on to what i thought,especially your pointing out Chandler’s facial expressions, because that was definitely a performance he put everything into

  13. The monster looked almost like [COMMENT EDITED BY MODERATOR – NO SPOILERS PLEASE!]

  14. @CL Do the rest of us a favor and post that kind of stuff in the spoilers discussion, especially when it is this new, thanks.

  15. Glad I skimmed this review:
    “Super 8 is not the sci-fi monster movie that some people may be expecting.”

    That’s all I needed to know; absolutely no reason to waste money seeing this anymore. I hate movies with kids, and can’t even tolerate movies where kids are the main characters.

    Big disappointment. I’ll just keep holding out hope for “Cloverfield 2″

  16. Super 8 is a really really good movie folks. Dont miss It.
    This film really is alot of fun.
    “Were breaking into school, who does that” :)

  17. Really liked it, by the time I was growing up movies like The Goonies and ET were on tv & VHS so I watched them all the time. This movie really felt like those type of movies. Almost if they were sitting on the footage for 25 years until the sFX could be done.

    The kids really sold the movie, especially the girl.

  18. Not a fan of Abrams honestly. The only thing of his I like is Star Trek. I hated Lost , I hate Fringe, I didn’t care for any of his shows to be honest and Cloverfield is horrible.

    I will be watching this but only for one reason and that’s for Kyle Chandler. I am a huge fan of him as an actor and love his work. He isn’t a huge hollywood name, but he is very selective from what I hear and what I’ve seen and he always is consistently good.

  19. The movie got four stars and people are saying rental???? geez!!! This movie was awesome. saw it twice today

  20. it starts really good, the actors are great but the script falls flat during the movie and ends up like an ET rip-off without magic. The visual Fx are cool, the creature looks like an awful cousin of the abomination from the HULK 2 movie without brains and charisma. ET had charisma, he was alive.

    Too bad the scrip didn’t allow more things to happen towards the middle, when you feel that the story builds up, like the sheriff and the dude looking for their kids side by side, I was expecting some major action, lets bash some military guys, save the kids and shoot the alien, wow maybe major action and here it never happened !!!

    Oh here are the kids, oops the alien is flying home now and the movie credits rolls, whaaaaat?
    The End already, you can feel it’s been rushed .

    A big disappointment which looks like an E.T rip off without brains and without magic, without major action.
    Goonies was awesome, ET was awesome, Close Encounter was magnificent and had real drama, brains…

    Yup this is more like a rental to me.

  21. Am I the only one who liked ‘Mission Impossible III’?

    • nope you are not. I did too

    • me too bro… this was so boring movie… i expected more but it had nothing at all! Give us our money back!

  22. I don’t understand why everybody’s bithcing about the lens flares. If you look at a lightbulb, that’s what you see. I appreciate the touch Mr. Abrams keep it up. Don’t mind these follow-the-trend a-holes.

    • Fail. Lens flare cannot be seen with naked eyes. Do not want to argue but sometimes JJ put the lens flare in unnecessary places.

      • Every director (especially a great one) has a trademark. JJ Abrams uses lens flares, Zack Snyder loves his slo-mo, and Christopher Nolan…well, if I had to think of one for him (besides good filmmaking), it would have to be…well dressed men.

        • Right, every good director will likely have a signature style, or ‘trademark’, they’re just usually very subtle and serve to enhance the scene. J-brams obviously knows this, and is trying to show us how great a director he is by cramming his ‘trademark’ down our throats. But it doesn’t really sync up with the cinematography, because the lens flares take place in completely inappropriate scenes where the source of light isn’t even on-screen. The reason you can’t seem to source Nolan’s trademark is probably because a good trademark doesn’t pull focus away from a scene enough to be entirely noticable.

  23. Just one word here. AWESOME. Loved it, very nice throwback era film. I’ll be buying the DVD when it comes out.

  24. Saw Super 8 tonight. LOVED IT. When it was done, the audience started to applaud.

  25. I saw it tonight – very well done, solid 4/5 for me as well. I’ve been following this closely since I first saw the teaser last fall so my expectations were higher. I agree with the complaints regarding the ending but everything else was extremely well done. The kids were just fantastic, and the action scenes (especially the ones that made you jump) were outstanding. Very pleased with this movie.

  26. I loved this movie. I thought it was extremely well written and acted. I thought the train scene was incredible, the young actors were especially endearing, and I loved the ending. The movie seemed to go by in the blink of an eye and I feel like I already want to go see it again.

    I also thought the alien was pretty cool.

  27. Abrams remembers the simple rule that a majority of his contemporaries have forgotten: action and mayhem have meaning only when an audience cares about the people trapped within the maelstrom. And I cared for all of these characters, even that drunk dad that gets arrested in the beginning. Nice Review! Check out mine when you get a chance!

  28. Well, I saw it and while the child actors were the best part of the film, it’s not a film I would be inclined to spend anymore money to see it again; and I don’t plan on buying the DVD. I suppose if you are in the mood for nostalgia it would be a great film to watch but I just thought it was OK. The train wreck was very well done and there were a couple of jump scares, but the creature didn’t impress me at all. I would give it 3/5.