I think I first realized that I had a problem with Steven Spielberg when I went to the theater to catch the director's cut of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. It wasn't that I didn't like the movie. I did like it. I'd already seen the original theatrical release and I liked it very much. Only the director's cut didn't deliver more of those quirky, character-building moments that made the initial release so charming. In fact, those moments were greatly reduced. Much of everyman Roy Neary's (Richard Dreyfuss) manic mud & shrubbery construction scene was sacrificed to allow bloated passages of FX and "spectacle." Watching this 5-minute longer version that had 1/5th the panache of the original, was the first time I suspected something a little shocking: for all this obvious skill, Spielberg wasn't really clear on what made his films work.
It was enough to make me rethink those articles about how in Jaws Spielberg had been forced to revamp his ideas about the film by a malfunctioning mechanical shark. The resulting film was a brilliant bit of storytelling, far better than the pulpy novel on which the film was based, but maybe that wasn't by design. If Bruce the Shark hadn't been a leaky, misfiring embarrassment on film, just what kind of movie would the young director have cranked out?
I'm afraid the answer is something like Super 8.
This collaborative effort between E.T.-Indy-Jurassic Spielberg and Lost-Alias-Cloverfield J.J. Abrams has all the elements of a summer blockbuster. Which is the problem, really. It has all the elements of a summer blockbuster, and all the imagination of a paint by the numbers edition of the Last Supper.
Honestly, I don't mind that Spielberg likes to make movies aimed at 12 year-olds. I like kid's movies as much as or more than most kids. What I do mind is that Spielberg and Abrams have a low opinion of 12 year-olds. Every scene is telegraphed, every doubt erased, every heart string and tear jerked with 50 lb test line. I want to like these kids. Heck, growing up in the 70s myself I feel like I knew these kids, except that the kids I knew were more than a short list of well-established move tropes. Every one of these Goonie's wanna-bes feels like a bit player from some other film forced to step uncomfortably in front of the camera.
The movie is simply clumsy, from the staging of the action to the "reveal" of the thing we already know is out there. It's one of those movies that makes you wish there was more, that you missed something, that there's a twist yet to come, a deeper level to discover. Nope, that's it.
It's one thing to offer a summer movie that's nothing but a roller coaster ride, but this ride is one creaky old coaster where every turn is predictable and every emotion delivered in Super Obvious technicolor by people who don't trust their viewers to draw even the simplest conclusions for themselves.
Score: an extremely disappointing 5 out of 10.