Something wicked in Super 8, Ryan Reynolds is lord of the ring

by Mark Burger

An acknowledged salute to the ’70s and ’80s films of Steven Spielberg — an executive producer here — writer/director JJ Abrams’ Super 8 is awash in nostalgia and special effects, and told almost entirely from the perspective of adolescent protagonists. Actually, that’s what makes this sometimes clunky sci-fi summer blowout work. The kids are all right, and they make the show.

Abrams displays a nice, nostalgic feel for the time and place: It’s the summer of ’79. Three Mile Island’s in the news. Electric Light Orchestra’s on the radio (always a good thing). And, for a group of young friends, it’ll be a summer to remember.

Joel Courtney plays the young hero Joe, still smarting after the sudden death of his mother and anxious to re-establish some semblance of normalcy by joining his friends in the making of their own movie, a “tribute” to George Romero’s Dawn of the Dead. While shooting the film late one night, the kids witness (and film) a cataclysmic train crash, during which the proverbial something else takes place: A strange, seemingly malevolent being is loosed upon the town. What is it? Where did it come from? Soon enough, they (and we) will find out.

There’s an easy camaraderie between the young actors: Courney, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Riley Griffiths, Gabriel Basso and Elle Fanning, again proving that she and older sister Dakota are formidable talents.

The grown-ups in the cast, including Kyle Chandler, Ron Eldard, Bruce Greenwood, Glynn Turman and Richard T. Jones, get short shrift here. As characters, they’re not remotely as interesting (or developed) as the youngsters. They’re merely incidental, or at most a functionary of a storyline that needn’t be as complicated as it is.

The “Spielberg” aspect is particularly evident in the film’s point-of-view, which is almost entirely taken from the kids, particularly Joe. Abrams has great empathy for the adolescent heroes, and, indeed, the young actors do an admirable job holding the film together, even when it begins to seriously meander as it lumbers toward its climax, which features a monster very reminiscent of Abrams’ 2008 sci-fi thriller Cloverfield. At least he’s ripping himself off, and Super 8 is a better film than Cloverfield was — although a sequel to that film is in the works.

The military (in this case, the Air Force) is not to be trusted, of course, invariably proceeding on a course of action that invariably makes a precarious situation that much worse. Needless to say, Noah Emmerich, as the head honcho, gets his comeuppance at the hands — or tentacles or whatever — of the creature whose existence he has repeatedly denied and whose efforts to contain have failed miserably.

This week’s superhero movie is Green Lantern , based on the DC Comics character and starring Ryan Reynolds in the title role.

Directed by Martin Campbell, Green Lantern is colorful summer popcorn fare, and like the recent Thor there’s an unmistakable air of familiarity about the proceedings. It’s not unpleasant. It’s reasonably entertaining.

As befits any suitable big-screen superhero, Reynolds is earnest and likable.

Yet this does follow the “superhero twostep”: Test pilot Hal Jordan (Reynolds) is bequeathed superpowers when he comes into possession of a ring that designates him as one of a legion of “intergalactic peacekeepers,” whose mission is described in an introductory narration (by no less than Geoffrey Rush) that represents comic-book exposition at its silliest.

In and out of the guise of Green Lantern, Hal faces down his fears, faces up to the threat posed by a menace called Parallax (voiced by Clancy Brown), saves the world and wins the girl (Blake Lively, worth winning). Presto! A new franchise is born… or so the studio hopes, obviously.

Campbell, with an assist from ace editor Stuart Baird (a veteran of the original 1978 Superman), keeps the action moving along, breezing past plot and character threads with no looking back. Tim Robbins (smarmy senator) and Angela Bassett (ruthless scientist) add a touch of class in smallish roles, and then there’s Peter Sarsgaard, whose subtle but outrageously mannered performance is a highlight. His Hector Hammond is an egghead scientist who is transformed, literally, into an egghead after being contaminated by alien DNA. Hector goes from mad scientist to bad scientist, yet Sarsgaard still manages to rouse a little sympathy — and more than a few laughs — in his turn as the film’s resident heavy.