19. SUPER 8

Director: J.J. Abrams
Stars: Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, Gabriel Basso, Rylie Griffiths, Kyle Chandler, Ron Eldard, Noah Emmerich, Amanda Michalka
In the months leading up to J.J. Abrams’ sci-fi flick Super 8’s premiere, speculation mounted around the film’s monster. Is it an alien? Some kind of Cloverfield-like beast? The smoke monster from Lost out to avenge the show’s unsatisfying conclusion? Unfortunately, once the world finally saw what Abrams had dreamed up, the impact was minimal at best; turns out, it’s the Cloverfield creature with spider legs, not to mention a vicious killing machine that’s suddenly able to feel emotions once a little kid bats his eyes. As a monster movie, Super 8 actually fails.

Fortunately, though, Abrams’ ode to the vintage films from Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment (The Goonies, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial) is really a film about likeable teens making a little zombie flick while dealing with troubled fathers, and, on that scale, Super 8 is a knockout. The kids all deliver stellar performances, namely Elle Fanning and newcomer Joel Courtney; Abrams has an uncanny knack for developing multifaceted characters, especially younger ones.

So it’s a shame that the film’s alien has to constantly pop up and distract us from emotional, adolescent core. Had Abrams resisted the urge to go all sci-fi, he’d have a cinematic marvel on his hands; as it stands, Super 8 is a frequently great movie held back by its genre inclinations. But, hey, at least folks got that Cloverfield sequel they’ve been dying for…well, maybe not.