In Super 8, a dangerous beast helps a young kid deal with the death of his mother, reconnect with his remote father and nab the cutest girl in school. Tween Joe (Joel Courtney) is doing make-up effects on an 8mm zombie masterpiece when the set is disrupted by an epic trainwreck, from which springs loose a mysterious creature capable of great destruction. Soon, military goons (evil, of course) have taken over his picturesque Ohio town, refusing to answer questions even as people (and dogs) disappear. This pisses off Joe’s taciturn deputy dad (Joel Chandler). Meanwhile, Joe and friends try to complete their film against the escalating horror, while the leading lady (Elle Fanning) proves fascinated by his yen for model trains and zombie make-up.
With Super 8, Producer Steven Spielberg has enlisted J.J. Abrams to recreate the kind of film he would make around the time the film is set (1979), a halcyon period during which he birthed not only E.T. but also Poltergeist, Gremlins and The Goonies. Super 8 bears many of the hallmarks of this era without being as fun as any: A single parent, chattering kids and a paranormal force that, while belligerent, is slowly revealed to have been fucked over by hubristic dick humans.
On his end, Abrams brings his love for rampant blue lens flare—given the many theaters in this nation projecting with dim bulbs, at its darkest lens flare may be all viewer’s can see—and his habit of writing himself into a corner only to lazily plot his way out. The should-be showstopping trainwreck that sets the story in motion is undermined by the ease with which the kids avoid the flying wreckage—really? no one gets even a scrach?—while an attack on a bus designed to be an instant classic fizzles out thanks to another unrealistically easy escape.
Which is a shame because Super 8 has a satisfyingly gradual build, one that’s so hesitant it almost doesn’t matter that it builds not to thrill but mush. Well, almost. But ersatz-retro is at least theoretically welcome coming off the boring laziness of The Hangover Part II, even if, like that monstrosity, the best part of Super 8 is saved for the end credits.