J.J. Abrams’ 2011 action-thriller Super 8 follows the adventures of Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney), a young boy living in small-town Ohio in 1979, and his friends as they accidentally stumble into a terrifying mystery.
Joe, after losing his mother to a tragic accident, falls under the wing of his often-absent father, the town deputy. Well-intended but clueless concerning his son’s happiness, his father plans to send Joe off to a baseball summer camp, namely away from Joe’s friends, a group of budding film aficionados.
Joe’s best friend, Charles, who plans to enter a local film festival with his low-budget zombie flick, leads their group. Seeking an actress, the gang gains a new member, the alluring Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning). With the aid of her father’s car, the group sets up to shoot at midnight next to the train tracks. There, the group witnesses a horrific train crash.
Strange events begin to unfold in their small town: dogs and people alike go missing, the power grid flickers, and vast numbers of the U.S. Air Force flood the town, leaving everyone with questions and no one willing to answer them. The authorities are trying to cover up the accident, and it’s up to the kids to uncover the truth.
Abrams brings sweetness and naivety to this action flick, nicely balancing dialogue-driven development against tense action scenes. Beautiful cinematography and a healthy amount of realistic CGI explosions bring artistry to what could have easily fallen into a series of thriller tropes.
Instead, Abrams brings heart and a keen eye into the lives of young teens, bringing the audience back into that familiar world through quippy dialogue woven throughout. The dynamic and dialogue between the kids are irreverent, funny, and realistic, perfectly capturing their awkwardness and blunt sincerity.
Unfortunately, the screen time devoted to the vast amounts of well-done CGI eat into the time available for character development. Alice is yet another female character that has such potential to be a strong and complex character but nearly misses the mark, wandering from stereotype to stereotype. Though Fanning plays the role well, this character begged for more thorough development.
While Super 8 occasionally sacrifices character development in favor of explosives, Abrams delivers with this engrossing and fun thriller.