Running time: 83 minutes, Rated PG-13
The superhero genre has seen some wild twists since the purist days of Richard Donner’s “Superman,” a movie which in many ways created the formula that until said twists was largely intransient. A colorful hercules of stalwart integrity and unbreakable ethics gains the power to displace all moral turpitude in the world and exact his life’s ambitions, confidently, with the love of the masses and a soul mate waiting. Actually the formula hasn’t changed much since the Greek myths. Even the Gothic Batman who many would defend as the “everyman” is capable of psychotically sweeping aside his personal devastations to conquer bedlam. It wasn’t until Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass in 2008 that a new film wave was inspired where regular joes face comic book predicaments in the real world. Most kept their distance from the earthmoving feats of the source material. 20th Century Fox’s “Chronicle” not only endows its teenage-mannered characters with full-scale super powers but is also the first superhero film to utilize another novelty: the “found footage” shaky cam popularized by The Blair Witch Project. For my money, it’s also the first dramatic narrative to find success with the documentative style.
Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHann) is tragically antisocial. He lives in a deteriorating home with an abusive father and dying mother. The more his only attachment dies, the more he feels the fists of the patriarch. His only friend at high school is his cousin, Matt (Alex Russell,) who does not speak to or defend him in the halls where bullies pummel. Andrew figures life has planned his downfall from the beginning and chooses to accelerate the process by self-destructively “chronicling” his desolation; thus the cheery impetus for the handheld approach. When dragged along to a rave by Matt where Andrew is caught filming some jock’s girlfriend and painfully forced from the party, circumstance finds the cousins and Steve (Michael B. Jordan, no relation) discovering a cave deep in the earth that emits unworldly sounds. While descending, Matt appropriately references Plato’s Allegory. After finding something that might as well be Kryptonian, the three wake up the next morning able to play Catch — with their minds. Coming together and mastering their abilities over the course of the film, the trio are a legitimate joy to watch until the heavy third act where Matt and Steve realize the best thing they could do for this world is save their friend from himself.
Of much higher quality than the cool but cryptic trailers led me to believe, Chronicle is truly a unique experience. The up-close-and-personal documenting of the seamlessly blended “special effects” leaves you agape at times as the boys experiment with little things like building LEGO towers or putting on a magic show, then the big things as they learn to levitate and…well you can guess what. Josh Trank’s directing debut has put him at the top of Hollywood’s most wanted list. As well it should as Trank coordinates so many scenes with such unbelievable realism. When a blogger with a camera of her own enters the film later, the possibility for multiple camera angles in this genre is groundbreakingly realized. The three leads are extraordinarily captivating with DeHann’s extreme pathos injections, Russell’s philosophical demeanor, and B. Jordan’s affable humanity (an actor some might recognize as grown up Wallace from The Wire.) None of this would’ve shown through if not for a mostly compelling script by Max Landis (son of the famous John Landis who directed Animal House and An American Werewolf in London.)
There is however some ground in this movie one might find ineffectual or maudlin. Though I said the script was mostly effective, it’s not really until they get their powers that you become invested in their characters. Andrew’s depression was hard to get a fix on at first but as the film went along, it became clear that he was genuinely disturbed. Suffering from actual sickness, it was hard to believe he’d want to draw attention to himself by hauling a camera around everywhere like some quirky types might, but he always was a moth to his own flame. It’s later on when he really starts to break down that some of his character is lost in what becomes an excessive shouting match. The whole climax was a bit comic-booky for a film that never actually uttered the word superhero. It shouldn’t be held against the movie too much since it’s kind of hard to escape your own genre.
Final Verdict: “Chronicle” is a pleasant surprise as it’s one of the films I can count on my fingers in the found footage genre that has characters you care about and also as the only representative superhero story. My other recommended pick for Feb.