Art imitates art in Super 8, J.J. Abrams love letter to Steven Spielberg, but just like a carbon copy of a piece of paper, the imitation is of noticeably lower quality.
That Super 8 is an unabashed throwback to every movie Spielberg produced or directed between 1975 and 1985 (ie: the likes of Jaws, Close Encounters, E.T., Poltergeist, The Goonies, etc) is an obvious understatement. All the familiar traits and archetypes are there; the aforementioned emotionally needy protagonists, the adult authority figures who just don't get it, the coming-of-age theme, the suburban setting, and even the style of music – Michael Giacchino is aping John Williams throughout, going so far as to simply invert or reorder some of Williams' more memorable melodies. But it seems Abrams was so focused on recapturing the aesthetic and concept of his adored influences, that he forgot to give Super 8 the one thing that made said influences so adored: a half-decent story. Near the beginning of the film, our young George-Romero-in-the-making agonizes over his zombie flick's need of “a better storyline”. This proves to be an unintended irony, as Abrams' own screenplay for Super 8 is hallow and underdeveloped. The two primary narratives – the let's-find-out-about-the-elusive-beast plot and the let's-reconcile-our-damaged-relationships plot – play out pretty much independently of each other, thus shortchanging them both to the point where we can hardly bring ourselves to care about either.
This isn't to say there's not some element of fun to sitting though Super 8 and playing “spot the allusion”, but despite resembling something my instincts tell me I should love, it cannot recreate the same feeling. If you're really in the mood for a nostalgia trip, you're probably better off to revisit the classics than indulge this well-intentioned but poorly written poser.
** out of ****