So, I took some time out to catch up on some flicks this weekend. Seeing as how it is summer, it was easy finding myself led by the nose through the marketing muscle of Green Lantern and Super 8 filled with lots of special effects, action sequences and escapist plots. I don’t look for a whole lot out of these summer escapes, but at least one of these films could have used a rewrite.
This was a surprise disappointment in the sense that I was already geared with low expectations that the film barely even met. To be clear, the movie wasn’t terrible in the sense that other super hero movies in the past have been terrible (e.g. The Fantastic Four). It was just supremely mediocre. While the cast was fine, the special effects were OK (shockingly just OK considering how much money went into this movie) and the action sequences were amusing enough. The problem was the plot and the kick-you-in-the-face themes gluing it together.
So, the overarching theme is ‘fear’. Specifically, fear induced by ‘daddy-issues’ in both the hero, Hal Jordan, who was traumatized as a child when his test pilot dad blew up during an accident right in front of him, and in the minor-villain, Hector Hammond, a squirrely scientist stereotype that apparently is afraid of life in general and not living up to his alpha-male, senator dad’s expectations (in another twist, Senator Hammond seems to really admire Hal Jordan).
Fear, weakness and lack of will are cited as Hal’s problems in a rushed introduction and training sequence with the Green Lantern Corps (the space police force, in essence, that he’s joining). From then on the scenes never seem to flow into each other. Hal is dejected. Hal is heroic. Hal is afraid again. Hal confronts his fear to save the universe. It is all very much a see-saw and the interconnecting tissue between these sequences are conversations about fearlessness versus courage. I felt like I was being punched in the face with the theme when it was OK to let it linger in the background and let the actions get the message across.
One other gripe is the ‘damsel in distress’ trope. Yeah, Spider-Man, a movie I really enjoyed, did it too, but I think the superhero film genre should have moved on since then. These movies are often marketed to young males, I get it, but I’m a little tired of watching the hero have to demonstrate their heroism by placing their female counterparts in contrived danger. At least The Dark Knight placed the “princess” in “another castle” (yup, a Batman and Super Mario Bros. reference combined!).
The movie might have been improved if there was less of the theme hammer and a reduction in jumping back and forth from Hal with the Green Lantern Corps and Hal on Earth. Again, not a terrible movie, but the plot needed some major streamlining.
Nostalgia is the key word with Super 8. An unapologetic homage to early Steven Spielberg (who executive produced) movies, J.J. Abrams does a fine job of mashing up some of the best elements of E.T., Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Goonies with the creepy, disaster vibe of Cloverfield. Also, the movie being set in 1979 really adds to that flavor of the age of the summer blockbuster après Jaws.
The story isn’t amazingly original, but the likable kids, the believable setting and the suspenseful vibe are spun into a supremely watchable adventure. It’s filled with the kind of things a kid growing up in a small town would daydream about. A colossal train wreck really gets things moving as the young filmmakers are shooting a hilariously sincere zombie movie of their own (stay for the credits to see the completed masterpiece). The mystery of what was on the train, why it crashed and why the military seems to be involved can be guessed at relatively easily, but the ride is good enough that you don’t really care about the inevitable destination. The kids also face real peril without the film being gratuitous in exploiting audiences who might have greater aversion to seeing children in danger.
Oddly enough, there are problems with dads in this film as well, but they are addressed more naturally than in Green Lantern. Seeing as how both dads are alive and still the sole providers of the young leads, it was a lot easier to get across the emotional subtext without resorting to direct exposition. Coincidentally, I saw both films on Father’s Day weekend. Go figure.
There are some minor quibbles with the lack of originality and the somewhat thin mystery. However, if you enjoy being reminded of those days when you got around everywhere on your bike, obsessively spent time making up stuff to do with your equally geeky friends and the first time your mouth went dry at the sight of a girl, Super 8 is a definite recommendation for sheer popcorn-movie-goodness.