Sunday, June 12, 2011

REVIEW: Super 8 (2011)

OK guys, this is it. This is the SUMMER BLOCKBUSTER WE HAVE ALL BEEN WAITING FOR! The messiah of big, explosive action movies! Truly a great piece of cinema that I am very honored to be reviewing here today.

Director: JJ Abrams
Starring: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler

So this is the new J.J. Abrams movie, and I will be talking it up to anyone who will listen for the next few weeks. Super 8 is a movie that could have easily been released 15-20 years ago and have been great then, too. It’s in that ambiguous mutt of genre classification that combines action, romance and suspense, all in well-doled-out amounts, to create a new sort of genre that I will call simply “summer blockbuster.” And in that regard, this is just straight up awesome. This is the kind of Kick-Ass or Dark Knight level of excellence that I really just love. It’s just pure cinematic ecstasy.

But I guess I do have to actually talk about this movie, so here goes. This is basically a story about a bunch of kids in the late 70s who are filming a movie and accidentally get wrapped up in a huge government conspiracy, which results naturally in ALL OUT WAR! That sounded decent enough, and I expected this to be decent, maybe stretching into ‘good’ territory at best – I was wrong. This did have what I expected in terms of material and themes and whatnot, but it took them to a level that went far beyond those expectations, which surprised me. The plot felt fresh, the characters were a lot of fun and everything that happened was carried out with a real honest zeal.

Like this plot thread about the main kid’s mother being dead – haven’t we seen that a hundred times already? Yes, but Super 8 manages to make us care anyway. Through the strengths of the actors and the writing it invests you wholly in what’s going on. There’s one scene in particular with Joel Courtney’s and Elle Fanning’s characters in the middle of the movie that just floored me. I don’t want to spoil it, though. And this was Joel Courtney’s first film? Really awesome job for such a young actor!

Just the ways the characters interact in general is really well done. They feel like real kids. Their families feel like real families. Sure, sometimes there are moments where they seem to be a little too mature for their ages, but even that’s pretty hazy; it’s never flat-out unbelievable or anything. Everyone just did a great job with this, making it one hell of a memorable film. One character, at the beginning, is talking about making a movie, and says something like “You have to make the audience want these characters to live,” and the film does spectacular on that front. The parts in the beginning where they’re making the movie are almost as joyous as the more heavy-duty action you get later, if not moreso at times.

So, yeah, wasn’t there an ALL OUT WAR in this movie too? Yes, and it’s presented with a bombast and grandeur to it that I rarely see in most of these kinds of movies. You have your usual build-up and military invasion and what not, and it all looks really standard from the get go…but surprisingly I found myself actually feeling pretty threatened by these guys. They felt like real villains. It wasn’t like in Thor where their being there was played off as some kind of silly, trivial inconvenience – in Super 8 you know some serious trouble’s going down, and while of course the plot is pretty nonsensical and off-the-wall, it will have you hooked anyway.

By the end it pretty much evolves into a full-scale epic. There’s one scene where the kids are running through their formerly quiet suburb with all sorts of flames, gunshots, laser beams, grenades and general chaos going on all around them. It’s just wild, wild stuff, and is extremely gratifying to watch – isn’t this why you come to the movies? To see stuff as big and grand as this? This film takes me back to a time when I wasn’t disillusioned to this kind of grandiosity due to horrible writing and years of plastic-fake movies…but then, this is a good movie on any standard.

So yeah, Super 8 rocks. It’s one of those movies that just reminds me why I like going to the movies. It’s filled with youthful wonder and a healthy sense of adventure. The characters are so good that you’ll feel like you’re right there with them. The story is very well told in every aspect. J.J. Abrams has been quoted as saying that he wanted to take us back to a time when movies didn’t have everything about them revealed before it was even released – to enhance the surprise when actually going into the theater. And I think that worked really well here, because I had no idea what this was about, and each new plot twist kept me hooked. Super 8 is the best movie of the year so far and if you don’t see it, you’re missing out big time.