Sunday, June 12, 2011

Super 8 (2011)

Overall Rating: 8.00/10

It happens in a flash, and it's quick, violent, intense, and completely void of practicality. Like one might find in many action-adventures, it's a declarative statement to the viewer - "this is where we set the bar for the feasibility of our action" - and if you don't buy it then, you're going to find the following two hours a very bumpy ride. In essence, it's just the way modern blockbusters go. They establish, very early on the need for you suspend your knowledge of physics, and accept that the heroes are going to get through a few over the top encounters unscathed.

J.J. Abrams knows as well as anyone, that line is a tough one to cross, and that the modern viewer will buy into more than they'd readily admit. With audiences more prone to accept first, ask questions later, Abrams grabs hold with the very first action scene in Super 8 and goes for the whole nine yards. It's a risky move, especially considering the appreciation for the remaining hour and a half depends on it, but if the viewer takes the bait and is willing to be absorbed, I can say from first hand experience it's a hell of a fun ride to go through.

Twisting and turning through every classic narrative you can think of, Super 8 flirts with realms as closely intertwined as Jurassic Park and E.T. to the opposite extreme with Romeo and Juliet romantic leanings. A young, but fluidly dynamic cast bounce their lines off one another with pin point precision, and personable timing. Homages weave in and out with everything from copy/paste sequences to 'wink wink' references for the obsessive completest geeks. Something some fans of the classic Amblin and Spielberg tales have found waning in favoritism, but I for one ate it up like a fat kid at a pie eating contest - so to speak (yes, I've just piled on a 'wink wink' while noting a film's use of 'wink wink' moments - #skill).

I've always found myself drawn to films on aliens, government intervention, and coming of age. So, diving in headstrong with the triple threat almost seems to put my critical hat at a disadvantage. I found myself loving the strong performances of young child stars Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Riley Griffiths, and Gabriel Basso. With Courtney and Fanning being the two real standouts - granted, Riley Griffiths in an Angus-styled role as the over agitated, misunderstood overweight kid left me feeling a bit nostalgic to my years as an overweight elementary and middle schooler... and high schooler... and, you know, let's just move on.

Another standout among the cast lies in menu item #1 of the Spielberg catalog, the despondent father Kyle Chandler, whom I've been waiting to grab another strong big screen roll following his breakthrough in 2005's King Kong. Matching wits with Chandler throughout is professional supporting man, Noah Emmerich - complete with fully functional seldom-speaking black underling Richard T. Jones (don't worry Jones, you'll always have a place here). Rounding out the star laden adult cast is a personal favorite in the form of Ron Eldard - who seems to finally be recovering from the quick pedestal kick out after House of Sand and Fog - as Elle Fanning's drunken, worthless father whose tale comes with handy built-in dramatic tie-ins.

But despite all the talent involved, Abrams plays this surprisingly close to the chest. Super 8 is cool, calculating, and intentionally manipulative. With over the top exposition dialogue capped off by excessive staging, Super 8 has perhaps more than its fair share of moments that induce eye rolling from more critical audience members. Yet, at no point did any sequence feel flat to me. Bouncing off from one shot to the next, the completed product connects each dot on its own pattern. A pattern that begs to blend the unbelievable and reality without care for their contradictory stances.

All of which collide in a finale that is immeasurably over the top, ridiculous in visualization, and fails to answer a handful of the questions the film presents... and you know what? It is awesome. Yes, I said it. Sure, the finale fails to complete the chain of events that it leads up to, but it also brings a sense of conclusion. A sense that the unanswered questions will be fine just lingering there. The characters, whose growth is at the heart of the film, has reached the peak and come into fruition, and the rest is just circumstance. It might leave a few audience members wanting, but I found it a perfectly fulfilling affair.

Of course, never one to disappoint, Abrams takes one last shot at an explosive finale, before quietly fading into the blackness of space and allowing the credits to roll. It's a bit cheap, but I found my funny bone well tickled, and for that I say - Super 8 is flawed, but it has a lot of fun being so. If you're willing to buy in to the extremity of its action, you'll find a heartfelt tale of wonder and childhood trauma to grab a hold of and cherish as you leave the theater.

Film Credits:
Written and Directed By: J.J. Abrams

5 better thoughts:

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Saw it yesterday and it's the best summer movie so far! Dug the retro feel, especially as I was about the age of those kids in 1979.

Duke said...

Yes! Finally someone besides myself who didn't talk themselves out of liking "Super 8".

Good review Ryan.

Dan O. said...

Abrams remembers the simple rule that a majority of his contemporaries have forgotten: action and mayhem have meaning only when an audience cares about the people trapped within the maelstrom. And I cared for all of these characters, even that drunk dad that gets arrested in the beginning. Nice Review! Check out mine when you get a chance!

Kevyn Knox said...

Great review. Super 8 is easily the best mainstream movie of 2011 so far (and right now rests at number three on my tentative top ten list for the year (still unfinished as of right now of course).

My review of said film is up and running over at The Cinematheque. Hopefully you will have a look.

Will said...

Great review. I love that you opened with the fact that if the viewers buy into that opening scene, then they are probably good to go. For me, that scene was ridiculously over-the-top, and I wasn't on board for the rest of the movie. I hate that those kind of action sequences are virtually all anyone in Hollywood puts out anymore.

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