When we associate director and producer JJ Abrams with film or television, we regard him as someone who has surprise for the movie going public, but only shows you a peek in order to make you anticipate it more. As producer of the director Matt Reeves's film Cloverfield, it was mostly a mystery of what was the thing that was tearing up the city, but we had to go to the theaters to see it for ourselves. However, when it was all said and done, Cloverfield was simply a decent monster movie meets Blair Witch Project, and that was that. Unfortunately, the same problem applies with Abrams directing the newest secret Super 8, a film that offers mystery of a train crash in a suburban area, but is pretty much what you are probably expecting. It's by no means an awful movie, but certainly a somewhat disappointing one.
The film follows young teenagers who are creating their own zombie movie on a super 8 video camera for a film festival in the summer of 1979. The make-up artist and protagonist of the film, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), has been slowly trying get over the unfortunate death of his mother at the steel mill. His father and deputy of the town's police, Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler), has been getting over the tragedy by occupying his time at work and having less time with Joe. This leads to Joe sneaking out one night to help his best friend an director of the film Charles (Riley Griffiths) shoot a scene at the train station. However, during filming a train from the Air Force crashes during the scene, leading Joe to notice something breaking out of a cargo hold. This leads to a series of events involving missing people and army intervention that leads Joe and his friends to begin investigating, while also attempting to finish their movie.
THe biggest contribution that JJ Abrams uses for his film is the influences of Steven Spielberg and a bit of The Goonies. This is mostly a blessing and a curse for the film, as certain things work for the film and others seem convoluted as the film leads to its conclusion. One of the best aspects of the film is the dynamic involving the kids and their film production of the zombie movie. The kids bring humor in all the right places, whether they are making their film or searching for whatever came off the cargo hold. There is even a bit of romance that works in the form of Alice (Elle Fanning), the sole girl in the film that Joe pines for. Unfortunately, while the Goonies-type relationship between Joe and his friends work, the rest just feels like something that came from a variety of Spielberg films. Whether its the estranged family or the mystery of the thing thats attacking the town in certain effective but slowly redundant scenes, there are markings of Spielberg all over it. It shouldn't be common considering Spielberg is the producer of the film, but all those themes soon bring the film down as it moves towards its conclusion, with the tone and motives flying all over the place.
Abrams has a handle on the film, with some nice shots and style coming from his previous film Star Trek, and he brings some good thrills,action, and surprisingly emotional scenes to the table. He also has capable actors who somehow raise the predictable dramatic scenes with their effective performances. Joel Courtney is a great lead as Joe, bringing humor with his romance scenes with Elle Fanning, while also taking home the dramatic scenes. Kyle Chandler is just as good as the father who is trying to do right by his son, but has to deal with a town that is suddenly having missing people and the army taking over their town. Elle Fanning is just as solid as her sister Dakota, and the actors playing Joe's friends make the most of their scenes, delivering the best laughs where it counts. It was also nice to see Noah Emmerich in the film, playing the leading army general who is trying to harbor the secret that escaped from the train cargo.
Unfortunately, with great performances, direction, and decent thrills, Super 8 gets bogged down with its homages to the great Steven Spielberg, leading to a film that seems too wildly uneven and predictable considering its mystery in the trailers. It just becomes another Cloverfield, a film that was decent and enjoyable enough, but that's pretty much it. However, stay during the credits, as one of the best part of the film happens at the time, celebrating the young and determined auteurs of movie making.