J.J. Abrams's Super 8 can't decide what it wants to be.
On the one hand ...
... it's a sweet, coming of age tale and an homage to both filmmaking and to producer Steven Spielberg's E.T. and other kid-focused films of the same era. Young Elle Fanning and young newcomer Joel Courtney deserve award nominations for their unself-conscious portrayals of lonely, motherless adolescents fumbling with their feelings for each other. Both are along for the ride with the kids who are in love with filmmaking and secretly shooting a movie at a train depot one night. They happen to be filming when a train crashes -- and not by accident -- and then they have a mystery on their hands.
Dogs in their little town go missing, the military gets involved and seems to be covering something up and the amateur filmmakers are forced to become amateur detectives.
On the other hand ...
... the cargo aboard that derailed train turns out to be hundreds of very uncuddly, white blocks resembling Rubik's cubes. Hardly the heir to E.T. These little blocks, that can hurl themselves through walls, aren't even the heirs to gremlins. At least the gremlins started out cute. The sweetness evaporates, and we're suddenly hit head-on with a violent, fiery, smash 'em up, sci-fi stew. It's dark (both the mood and the lighting), and there's hardware flying everywhere. Abrams doesn't seem to know where to take it.
In that respect, it reminded me a little of Close Encounters of the Third Kind, a movie I never could get hyped up about. That much-lauded film felt to me like a lot of build-up that led to a big let-down.
Since Super 8 really felt like two competing movies, my advice is, of course: See it/Skip it.