Review: Attack the Block is like Super 8, but with a point

I don’t know if I can review Attack the Block the same way I would if I’d seen it a different year. At this point, the alien-invasion thing is just getting ridiculous. Skyline – alien invasion. I Am Number Four – alien invasion. Battle Los Angeles – alien invasion. Transformers 3 – alien invasion. Super 8 – alien. Paul – alien. Battleship – alien invasion. Cowboys and Aliens – alien invasion. Even Green Lantern and Thor are kind of about alien invasions, once you strip away the hot, shaved dudechests. Don’t get me wrong, Attack the Block is a well-made, fun film, and it may be unfair to the director (Joe Cornish, working from his own script) to judge it that way when he probably wrote it years before all the lesser versions drowned out my enthusiasm, but I just don’t know how many more times I need to see aliens destroy a city. The aliens come, the humans have to figure out why they came and what they want, and everyone learns an important lesson. Attack the Block is surely the most competent and least insulting version of this we’ve seen in a while, I’m just not sure that the fact that it happens in English gang turf rather than LA, the old west, the 70s, with robots, or in the ocean is enough variation to recommend it. Though I do feel like I finally understand what Ali G was making fun of, so that’s something

So the aliens, who are like chubby Chewbacca dogs with razor sharp, glowing, rave-party teeth, crash land without benefit of a ship (that’s new, sort of!) in a slummy neighborhood in West South London. In the process, they interrupt a mugging, by a group of mostly-black-but-racially-mixed teenage street toughs on a scared white girl talking on her cell phone. (Analogy for Americans: The girl is basically that toonie bitch Rebecca Hall in The Town trying to gentrify-up the old neighbahhood with a Stahbucks, and the kids are all the little hahd ons from Southie). At first, no one’s quite sure what the aliens want, other than to rave-up peoples’ innards with their dog teeth and terrorize the crew from Dangerous Minds. And since they came down looking like shooting stars on Fireworks Day (whatever the British equivalent of July 4th is) no one realizes Earth’s being invaded. Except the kids, of course, but no one believes them, because in movies, it’s impossible to convince anyone but kooky old ladies and stoners that aliens are invading even if the evidence IS RIGHT IN FRONT OF THEIR GODDAMN STUPID FACE.

Soon, old rivalries become uneasy alliances, the gang runs afoul of both ruthless gangsters and comical stoners (one played by Nick Frost), and along the way, they learn things about the world and about themselves. Easy, breezy, beautiful.

I hate that I feel so compelled to use Super 8 as a point of comparison here when I know at least half the people reading this haven’t seen it, but it’s impossible to ignore. Attack the Block is an all-too-perfect illustration of just how inept Super 8‘s attempt to pull off the same thing was. Mystery and slow-building plots are great, but “Hey, remember ET?” is not a valid narrative strategy. And when you get to the end of a mystery, you should probably feel like it had some kind of point or theme or new idea, not like you’re looking at the answer key to a crossword and going, “Really? Huh. Well that’s stupid.”

Attack the Block has almost all the same superficial elements as Super 8 — a group of kids, aliens, the government — but spiced up here and there with a few actual ideas, which are different from references. The characters in Attack the Block begin as strangers and gradually develop. They don’t just show up as single-serving quirks and clichés whose catchphrases will be repeatedly dry-raped into you throughout the movie. That’s a lost art in the age of Michael Bay, a quirk rapist of the highest order.

In Super 8, there’s a climactic moment where the little girl comes face to face with the alien and says, “I know bad things happen! …But you can live!” and that seems to be the film’s message. Which not only isn’t profound, it doesn’t even make f*cking sense. I can live?? Gee, thanks, benevolent telepathic alien! You’ve taught us all an important lesson. Here, take my dead mom’s locket. In a comparable moment in Attack the Block, a girl tells the lead character, Moses, “See, Moses? Your actions have consequences!”*

Yes, it’s reductive and a smidge cheesy, but it’s at least relevant and coherent. It may not sound like the freshest thing in the world, and it’s not. Attack the Block is essentially Predator, where the jungle is a neighborhood in London, the team of special forces is a street gang, the huge sweaty ‘roid muscles are awesome sideways brohawk haircuts, and Arnold is a stoic black kid (John Boyega). (And here I might point out that Predator was remade just last year). But it’s nice to see someone do it right for a change. “OH SH*T, LOOK OUT!” isn’t the end-all be-all of emotions a movie can elicit, but at least I was ducking and gripping my armrests, rather than slapping my forehead and derisively mouth flatulating. Yes, that’s a fancy way of saying mouth farts. Attack the Block is a fun, entertaining popcorn flick that won’t make you mouth fart. Put that on the poster.

Now, enough with the f*cking alien invasion movies.

GRADE: 5 out of 7 Sideways Bro-Hawks.

*Yes, the leader’s name is Moses. It’s about an 7 on the possible-biblical allegory-o-meter.