Nostalgia can be a powerful thing for film fans. People tend to get sentimental about their favorite movie classics, remembering how much they enjoy watching the adventures they grew up with over and over. But what happens when you both pay homage to the great adventure films of decades past,while creating an entirely unique one of your own? You get J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 and you get a fantastic, heart-pounding ride that’s sure to remind audiences of some of their cherished favorites and stick with them for weeks to come.

Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is a young boy who suffers a recent tragedy, but finds solace in amateur filmmaking with his best friend and director Charles (Riley Griffiths). But when Charles, Joe, and the rest of the crew manage to sweet-talk Joe’s crush Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) into joining their things really seem to take off. However, one night when the kids sneak out to film a pivotal midnight scene at a local rail station, Joe spots a careening train heading right for them. Barely escaping within an inch of their lives the kids return to their home to find out what they witnessed was no ordinary train crash. Soon they realize that something terrible escaped into their town. In no time, Joe’s father, Deputy Sheriff Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler), is contending with a military force that will stop at nothing to preserve a horrible secret. Meanwhile Joe, Charles, and Alice contend with adults who don’t understand them and with a deal-capsizing situation that’s far beyond normal comprehension just so they can finish their movie.

Super 8 plays well on the strength of its pedigree. With both red-hot director J.J. Abrams directing and writing, and seminal legend Steven Spielberg producing it seems like an instant recipe for success… and it most definitely is. With a cast of relative unknowns, including an incredibly talented ensemble of young actors, the film resonates on an emotional level that no other blockbuster has achieved in recent memory. It also cleverly borrows elements from films we’ve seen and loved before, but manages to still be its own entity. Audiences will draw obvious parallels to E.T. and Goonies, but they might walk off feeling something darker too, more on par with The Thing. Its part adventure, part monster movie, and part disaster flick. Super 8 deftly blends these elements together to create something both familiar and brand new.

The incredible group of young actors can’t be praised highly enough. Elle Fanning has already been coming into her own with appearances in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Somewhere, but first-timer Joel Courtney steals the scene. Watching him with his more seasoned cast mates will truly make audiences wonder how this can be his only credit to date. There’s a bond that forms between Joe and Alice, a childhood romance that will really make you believe that these young children would go up against such spectacular odds to save the people they care about. And it’s not all about the harder emotions either. These kids are hilarious as well, the arguments they have while making their movie are both a riot and totally believable. Riley Griffiths, another newcomer, is a perfect match as the demanding director of the kids’ 8mm movie and best friend to the main character. His drive to finish his project while the entire world around him is falling into chaos may seem insane, but his enthusiasm and the support of his friends make it totally understandable.

Of course Super 8 is not just about a group of precocious children making a movie. There are many genuinely jaw-dropping moments. The initial train crash that sets the story into motion rivals any of the disaster scenes viewers have seen recently. Audiences will find themselves out of breath as the kids’ movie scene quickly descends into utter chaos, and they each find themselves fighting for their very lives. The action hardly stops there though as the growing fear in the small community mounts and the mysterious passenger of the train gradually makes its presence more and more obvious. The creature provides genuine scares throughout the film, and its purpose is gradually revealed in a way that will really draw audiences into the story. It’s intentionally suspenseful and deliberate and provides a fantastic foe for the kids to contend with.

The last thing to mention almost goes without saying. Rest assured the visual effects, cinematography, and production design in the film is outstanding. Super 8 has no shortage of fantastic action scenes and set pieces, each completed to a superb degree. Audiences will feel like they’re right there in that small Midwestern town being stalked by something completely terrifying. Every shot is done with precision, from the mildest establishing shot to one if the most chaotic climaxes put into a film.

Super 8 really does have everything you could want in a summer movie. It’s funny, engrossing, dramatic, and even terrifying. Truly J.J. Abrams has again demonstrated his panache for delivering the top tier of entertainment in cinema. With so many big blockbusters coming out this year, audiences owe it to themselves to not let this one sail under their radar. Quite frankly if you walk out of Super 8 without a smile on your face, you’ve forgotten why you go to movies in the first place.