‘Super 8’ is a fun flick among a crop of so-so movies

Super 8 is an example of what a good summer popcorn flick should be like. Nostalgia. A little suspense. An adolescent romance. Loud, clanging metal and big, booming explosions.

Oh yeah, and a monster that causes massive destruction.

It’s not perfection, but it definitely stands out as above average in a sea of below-average movies currently in theaters.

Super 8 is a bit of a Goonies-meets-E.T. hybrid (since Steven Spielberg is producer, that’s not surprising). It’s also slightly similar to writer/director J.J. Abrams’ last “monster” movie, Cloverfield, in that the creature and its purpose aren’t all that important to the film. Thankfully, Abrams wisely scrapped the annoying shaky-camera stuff.

Set in 1979, Super 8 is about a group of childhood friends making a horror movie (using a Super 8 camera). Soon, they are thrown into a real-life monster situation when a pickup truck and train have an unfortunate collision right where the kids are shooting their movie.

The group includes Joe (Joel Courtney), Cary (Ryan Lee), Preston (Zach Mills), Charles (Riley Griffiths) and Martin (Gabriel Basso). Joe, the movie’s makeup artist (he makes them look like cool zombies), recently lost his mother to a tragic accident.

He has a crush on Alice (Elle Fanning, who is just as natural an actress as her older sister Dakota), who agrees to act in the movie. The fathers of Joe and Alice don’t get along too well and basically forbid them from hanging out together.

The Joe-and-Alice relationship has been done before in countless movies, but Courtney and Fanning are so emotionally connected to their characters that it doesn’t matter. They do a good job of making the audience care about them and their forbidden love.

Going back to the monster story, the kids figure out that the train accident was no accident and realize there’s a monster on the loose. The military is suspiciously trying to cover up something and forces everyone to evacuate.

Meanwhile, Joe, Alice and the gang are furiously trying to save themselves and their small Ohio town — and to find out what the monster really wants.

I couldn’t help but think that Elle Fanning looked and acted way older than her 13 years. I was surprised to realize after the movie that she was only 12 during filming. I’m guessing she had her growth spurt already, because she appeared quite tall for her age.

The movie is not without a few flaws. The resolution of the monster situation is definitely rather blah and underwhelming. The military/government officials are clichéd caricatures.

Super 8 is the kind of movie that the whole family can enjoy. One thing to keep in mind is that it’s PG-13, mainly for language, and I thought it went a bit too far with the kids’ cursing (even if adolescents do talk like that).

Parents will enjoy the walk down memory lane; kids will relate to some of the troubles between the friends. It’s big-budget entertainment, but it also brings a decent story and tugs at the heartstrings without going overboard. And stick around during the end credits for a fun bonus scene. ••

Movie Grade: B+