The movie is certainly not perfect, but it is EXTREMELY good, worthy to be put next to the awesome geek movies of most of our childhoods, particularly those centered around child characters. I say "most of our" childhoods, because I'm still catching up to movies that everyone else my age saw when they were kids. I don't have the nostalgia to look back on these movies as the Best Ever (I mean, E.T. is quite good, but robbed for Best Picture in 1982? Not really. Yeah, I said it.), but I definitely get warm fuzzies just as if these movies were actually a part of my own childhood.
The less said about the plot of Super 8 the better. The trailer tells you everything you need to know before going in.
The mysterious element in the movie is ever so slightly underdeveloped. I think this is mainly because the movie is far more interested in the kids - as well it should be - and their point of view is limited. These are some of the best movie kids I've seen in a long, long time. They are real kids, not actors playing some Hollywood jagoff's idea of what kids are like. They talk like real kids, about topics that kids actually talk about. It's hard for the main character Joe (Joel Courtney) not to be a favorite, but he gets serious competition from Cary (Ryan Lee), the runt who's way too into explosives. Cary is just such an awesome kid, and I want to hang out with him and watch movies. I also really dug Charles (Riley Griffiths), whose family is very reminiscent of the Weasleys of Harry Potter. He's not as awesome as Ron (but then, who is?), and he has kind of an unlikeable streak, but he still manages to be a mostly sympathetic character. Notable small roles are filled by the amazing Dale Dickey (one of the great supporting actors of last year's Winter's Bone) and Dan Castelleneta (the voice of Homer Simpson). I want to see it again so I can spot Abrams regulars Greg Grunberg and Michael Giacchino in cameos as well (Giacchino also composed the wonderful score).
This movie is clearly inspired by the classic "Peter Pan era" Spielberg films, and as one of the film's producers, his stamp on the material is hard to deny. But I feel like Super 8 is very much its own film. In the same spirit as those great early 80s adventures, but it never feels like a copy of any of those films.
I don't think you'd get very far out of the theater after the movie before you realized this, but stick around for the credits and you will see Charles's film in its entirety. It is fantastic, and I was very much reminded (not just during their little film, but in the scenes where they were making it as well) of those guys who made their own version of Raiders of the Lost Ark when they were kids. Lots of cool movie geek references are woven into their story, like the fact that Joe learned about makeup from Dick Smith's book (Smith is a legend in film makeup, having most notably created Linda Blair's super-scary demonic look for The Exorcist).
Side note: In watching all those movies in preparation for Super 8, I have discovered that - aside from it being the film Super 8 most closely resembles - I find Close Encounters of the Third Kind to be Spielberg's greatest film, period. The scope of that story is unreal, and the various human perspectives on the mysterious elements are some of the best storytelling I've ever seen. I need to do a proper post on it someday.