Super 8 is about two things: A group of movie-obsessed kids growing up in an Ohio mill town in the 70s, and a monster. The kids are great, all around 14:
- Joel Courtney is a sensitive boy whose mother died, leaving him under the distracted care of his policeman father
- Riley Griffiths is his best friend, a chubby kid who writes, directs and shoots horror movies on super 8 movie camera
- Ryan Lee is their pyrotechnics experts, and a possibly a disturbed pyromaniac
- Gabriel Basso, their leading man, is famed for losing his lunch
The dynamics of the group of kids, especially Courtney's budding romance with Fanning are great. Maybe it's just that I'm a child of the era (I was probably born just a few years before these kids were supposed to be), but it was very nostalgic for me. The death of Courtney's mother was a bit much, but I guess director J.J. Abrams needed a little something extra. Griffiths reminded me of a young Orson Welles - restlessly, relentlessly pursuing a cinema dream.
The monster, on the other hand, was a little bit disappointing. Like in Cloverfield, they keep him hidden for a long time. I'm not going to spoil anything, except to say that the monster seemed like something we've seen before. Still, the buildup to the reveal - the train, the military presence, the secrecy - are pretty good.
I guess this movie is at least partly a tribute to producer Steven Spielberg and his kid-based SF movies. It also has plenty of Abrams' patented lens-flare and pointless (in my opinion) rotating camera movements. The Cloverfield connection is weak - this really isn't about accidentally filming the monster. But the tributes and sources and references are everywhere.
I think that if the kids had been making the movie, they would have understood the importance of the monster.