Fair WARNING to all my readers: There are minor spoilers in this review that may give insight to some of the mysteries this film holds. I highly recommend seeing this film before reading my review. Trust me when I say SUPER 8 does NOT disappoint and is well worth the price of admission.
SUPER 8 is the latest directorial achievement from creative mastermind J.J. Abrams (STAR TREK, MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 3) and stars a simply wonderful cast of relatively unknown actors. SUPER 8 follows the story of a young teenager named Joe Lamb who lives in 1979 Ohio and spends his days as a make-up artist for his friends zombie movie. Joe is mourning the recent death of his mother and must find a way to connect with his father as they struggle with their loss. The story takes a turn as Joe and his group of friends witness an explosive train wreak that unleashes something supernatural. While SUPER 8 may appear to be a campy “monster movie” from a distance, it ends up being so much more. What we have here is a heartwarming story about loss, coping with our realities, and finding connections with one another no matter the gap. SUPER 8 is an extremely nostalgic film that will surely remind some of us of our childhood and is in equal tone to classic coming-of-age films such as E.T., THE GOONIES, and STAND BY ME. The overall story arc is borderline predictable (not in a bad way) yet completely engaging, the young cast does a brilliant job portraying their characters, and the science fiction aspects and action are all top notch! All of these elements combined, along with some stunningly beautiful shots, create one of the most unique films of the year that I would highly recommend to anyone.
The cast of SUPER 8 is filled with mostly unknown actors and I believe that adds to the films charm. It is extremely rare to see a movie these days that is not a sequel, remake, or a re imagining; AND it’s full of mostly unknown actors. The core cast here is full of young and talented actors who all bring something different to the table creating a wide array of personalities that play off one another very well. Our main character, Joe Lamb, is portrayed by the young actor Joel Courtney and he does a great job carrying us through the film. Throughout the film Lamb struggles with the death of his mother, tries to connect with his father, falls in love for the first time, argues with his jealous and stubborn best friend, AND has to deal with a terrifying train wreck that unleashes a violent beast into his world! That’s a lot of crap to deal with and Courtney does a fine job expressing a natural sense of emotion throughout creating a truly three dimensional character that audiences will surely adore and relate too.
The young cast also includes Elle Fanning (THE CURIOUS CASE OF BENJAMIN BUTTON) as the girl next door AND love interest to Joe Lamb, unknown (until now) Riley Griffiths plays the charismatic Charles who directs the zombie movie and is Joe’s best bud, Ryan Lee (SHORTS) plays Cary the mischievous buddy who always has some fireworks on hand, and a handful of other buddies that all have their moments to shine resulting in a fun and diverse group of characters. All of these young cast members work and play off one another so well you would think they all knew one another in real life. There are tons of little moments between these characters, whether it be an argument or subtle facial expression, that really adds to their authenticity. It is worth noting that Kyle Chandler (FRIDAY NIGHT LIGHTS, KING KONG) does a stunning job as Joe’s father here and really turns out to be an awesome character. I really cannot stress enough how great this cast is and how natural they all seem to play off one another.
From the moment SUPER 8 opens, I was captivated by the tone, characters and overall themes of this film. It grabbed me from the get-go like a good book and never let up until the credits rolled. That is due in part to the pitch-perfect pacing of the film. SUPER 8 is FULL of mystery and suspense and nothing is revealed too quick or too slow. Abrams has mastered the art of pacing and has crafted an instant classic. I enjoyed how elusive everything was at first, and just when I would start to lose patience, something new and cool was introduced to maintain and heighten my curiosity. SUPER 8 is a very engaging and entertaining puzzle full of small pieces that will have you excited and eager to see the big picture.
At times it feels like SUPER 8 is two films being inter cut with one another. While normally that would be confusing, it all seems to mesh together well here creating a deep AND fun movie. On one hand, we get a fantastic character piece showcasing moments of drama that have our characters struggling with issues such as love and loss, and on the other, we get a fantastic summer movie full of explosions, excitement, cool creature effects, and one hell of an action set piece with the explosive train crash. I have never really seen a film that blends all of these elements together so well.
While SUPER 8 is a wonderful piece of drama, it is also a fun filled summer movie that is full of amazing eye candy. The balance between drama and fun in SUPER 8 is part of what makes this movie so unique. We are treated to a jaw dropping train crash early on that has the main cast of children running from the explosion while pieces of debris are falling and exploding all around them that is a sight to behold. Seriously folks, this level of intensity is what going to the movies in the summer is all about. We also get a memorable and kick-ass creature that is wonderfully designed and has some true depth not found in most movie monsters. Abrams utilizes the “less is more” approach with this creature at first to give it more of a monstrous vibe and as the movie charges forward, we see a unique evolution of the beast that will have many reconsider its motives. In addition to the train wreak and amazing creature, we have some very cool moments of human resistance (in the for of army and military defense) that reduces what should be typical mid-west suburbia into a complete war zone. I did appreciate that no matter how big the action got the story and pace of the movie always focused on our main cast of characters.
Once the credits rolled, I could not help but think what a unique (yet familiar) and beautiful film SUPER 8 turned out to be. I had very high expectations for this one and Abrams delivered tenfold. SUPER 8 is a wonderfully nostalgic film that is a beautiful throwback to the movies a lot of us grew up with. The main difference here is the adult tone of the film dealing with complex characters that are struggling with mature issues such as death, love, friendship, relationships, forgiveness, and acceptance. The characters are endearing and real, the story is told with wonderful pacing and detail, the action and creature effects are astounding, and the overall level of care given to each and every shot is undeniable. SUPER 8 stands as one of the best films I have seen in recent memory and will surly have a top spot in my top ten movies of the year. Highly recommended.
Final Score: 9.5 out of 10