Super 8 is a relentlessly entertaining movie, kind of like a very violent version of E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial. You won’t walk out thinking you wasted your money, but when you start to think about the movie, you may have some regrets.

J.J. Abrams is great with dialogue. It flows out of him like water through a hose. In Super 8, he captures the late 70’s by perfectly blending music, suburbia and set dressing. Joe is a young teen helping his friend make a zombie movie. Joe’s mom dies 4 months prior and his dad is obviously still hurting about it. His dad, a sheriff’s deputy, wants to send him to baseball camp, but Joe wants to stay home and make monster movies with his friends.

Things all go to Hell when the Goonies-like cast are shooting on a train platform and a guy in a truck derails a train. The train contains some huge, Hulk-like alien that’s trying to escape. Like E.T., it’s about the alien trying to get home. The stronger portion of the movie, however, is Joe and his dad dealing with the lost of the mother. The alien is kind of a big, noisy distraction.

I guess the problem is (although you won’t really see the problem until you think about the movie later because the pacing is pretty relentless), Abrams treats the sci-fi elements like the casual dialogue he scripts so well. The randomness of suburbia life and that “life-goes-on” kind of feel, doesn’t have to follow a whole lot of logic. I mean, basic physics and whatnot apply, but there are so many competing interests between the kids and the adults in this small town, the mixture is chaotic and normal, so you can pretty much hide anything within that.

The science fiction elements need more than that. For all the amazing design and CGI and effects (some spoilers here) Abrams explains a crucial element of the plot sort of offhandedly. The doctor that initially helped the alien escape has some kind of psychic connection to the alien. Okay, we’ve seen that, we can buy it. Abrams even goes as far to show the moment, after the kids discover a hidden stash of films.

But here’s the problem, if the alien can just bond psychically with someone by touching them, why doesn’t he just do that with everyone? And the scene, to which I’m referring where the doctor gets touched, the cage holding the alien is ridiculous. There’s a huge gap where the alien can easily reach through and grab someone. Plus, the alien is strong enough to throw cars and leap great distances. It’s fast and strong enough to push over a bus. So how does the government end up capturing it in the first place?

I mean, look, I don’t need an explanation of why a teenage sister of one of the characters wants to desperately go to “Wendy’s party”. We all know teens want to go to parties. There’s a certain logic in that. But there’s no logic in the alien cage and the alien’s psychic power. In fact, the alien touches lots of people in the movie and towards the end starts killing people.

Now, I’d have to applaud Abrams, on one hand, for now turning the movie into a sappy, Spielberg-esque E.T. rip off. However, the alien (and yes they show it) kills some bad people, but kills some good people too. You’re sympathetic to its plight, but when it’s revealed why it’s capturing people and hanging them upside down in its lair, you have to go, “Whoa. Wait a minute here.”

The alien’s ship is another issue. It’s never quite revealed what its doing or how it’s rebuilding its ship out of these weird squares. In E.T., you could actually see that he’s building some kind of transmitter. Here, it’s sort of like magic and inconsistent magic. (spoiler) During the big magnet scene, certain metal objects are pulled to the ship, but others are not. Abrams makes a big show of a soldier trying to hold onto his gun, which gets ripped out of his hands. But other soldiers, in the same scene at the same time, get to keep theirs. WTF?

Also, for reasons that make no sense to me on a technical level, the alien takes over certain army gadgets and sets them running amok. If it could do all that, why didn’t it do it earlier? And how is it doing it? This is the late 70’s, it’s not like there are a lot of computer-controlled tanks and cars then.

And where’s the moral compass of this movie? The government is bad because it trapped the alien. The alien is bad because it kills a lot of people without remorse. It is, seemingly, lost in the mix of CGI, explosions and Goonie one-liners. These issues are not addressed and what wraps up the movie is the father-son bonding over “letting go”. That’s fine, you don’t need a giant alien and explosions to tell that story. Simple as that. Abrams manages to tie in it during one moment between the kid and the alien, but its like the movie is too rushed to take on anything else. That’s a shame, because these characters were strong enough. Abrams should’ve cut a few minutes out of truck and tank explosions to explore those moments. All the great moments of this movie happen without the alien story.

Anyhow, despite my rant here, the movie is worth seeing. Film geeks may quickly tire of Abrams homages to Spielberg in this, but most of it is pretty forgivable. You may feel like what Abrams had done to E.T. was something like this Redletter Media review of his Star Trek movie.

So, my rating is this: for the parts of the movie that weren’t sci-fi, I give it 9 out of 10 keggers, but for the sci-fi stuff, I have to give it a 6. That’s a 7.5 if you average it out. Take from that what you will, bros.