*WARNING! SOME SPOILERS FOLLOW!*
Super 8 has had rather conflicting critiques. One side views it as a love letter to the old classics of Steven Spielberg. The other side views it as unoriginal and rife with clichés and underdeveloped characters. My opinion falls somewhere in the middle.
Super 8 takes place in the summer of 1979. The main character, Joe Lamb, has just lost his mother in a steel mill accident. He starts out the summer by helping his friend, Charles, make a movie for the Super 8 festival along with his friends Alice, Preston, Martin, and Cary. They sneak out of their houses in the middle of the night to film at a train station, where they witness perhaps the most overblown, absurd train crash ever put to film. In the wake of the accident, they learn that their old teacher Dr. Woodward stopped the train by driving his car into it. Before they can learn more, they flee from the scene as the army closes in. Throughout the movie, the kids uncover a government conspiracy while attempting to save their town from an unknown threat.
Anyways, enough with the summarization. By far the best thing about this film is the pace of the dialogue and the solid character arcs for each of the main characters. The dialogue between the kids doesn’t follow a standard pattern of character 1 speaking while characters 2-5 listen. They speak over each other, mumble, and don’t always pay attention. It’s like *GASP* a realistic conversation! This adds to the likability of the kids; and provides a nice contrast to when the adults are conversing. The film also does a good job of presenting interesting character archetypes and giving them fulfilling character arcs. For example, Joe is kind of a quiet kid; maybe even a little nerdy. He doesn’t share a lot in common with his dad, and they’ve been at odds with each other since Joe’s mom died. By the end of the movie, he learns to be more assertive, get over his mother’s death, and reconcile with his father. A bit predictable, sure, but enjoyable to watch nonetheless.
Now let’s talk about where the movie falls flat on its face. Super 8 has an important sci-fi element to it. It’s a shame, because Super 8 could have been an enjoyable twist on the classic coming-of-age story. Everything about the sci-fi element of this film is predictable and shallow. The army is made out to be this evil organization without a shred of common sense (or character development). There’s a convenient element to the monster that allows it to be understood by people. The kids are the only ones who understand what is going on. These are certainly elements of sci-fi Steven Spielberg movies, and it shows that Super 8 is just like one of those movies, for better or worse. I’d also like to take the time to briefly mention the monster design. It looks like crap.
All-in-all though, Super 8 is a pretty decent film. While I didn’t care for the last act (the ending has a piece of “symbolism” that’s about as subtle as the aforementioned train crash), the movie does provide characters that I was interested about and made me care for what was happening.
The Good: Interesting main characters, good emotional catharsis, a great pace to dialogue.
The Bad: Shallow villains, the sci-fi element.
The Ugly: The monster design looks slightly better then what a two-year old could draw, blindfolded.
Score: 7.75 out of 10