Chronicle Review: The Best “Real World” Superhero Movie Ever?

Hancock, eat your heart out.

What happens when you combine the gimmick of the Blair Witch Project, the tone of Jumper, and the personal struggle of Akira‘s Tetsuo all into one movie?

You get Chronicle.

And that’s a good thing.

This was Josh Trank‘s directorial debut, and both his and screenwriter Max Landis‘s first work on a big budget movie; surprisingly, this movie excels so well that it’s passed many of it’s comic book themed movie brethren (or actually comic book movies, like Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, as a damn good movie.

The Premise

Make that a lesson, kids: exploring dark, dangerous caverns in the middle of the night will only lead to good things. Just like radioactive lab experiments and government experimentation.

In a nutshell, it’s a pretty simple set up. You’ve got your three male High School stereotypes lumped together by coincidence. Andrew (played by Dane DeHaan, who looks like a very angry young Leonardo DiCaprio), is your loner kid with a depressing life. Matt, Andrew’s cousin (played by Alex Russell), is your self-centered slacker philosopher. Steve (played by Michael B. Jordan, no relation to that famous guy with the same name) is your super popular kid running for Class President. Very soon, circumstances lead them together down a cave where they find something… something that mysteriously grants them telekinetic powers.

What this amounts to is a movie that takes Stan Lee’s infamous Spider-Man quote of “With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” and really pushes that to its limits.

Don’t be misled by the trailers, whose footage almost entirely consists of superpowered boys being douchbag superpowered boys, and Andrew being a super angsty nihilistic whiner kid. The movie actually takes you through what an X-Men: First Class movie would really be like if the students were all truly teenagers going through teenager stuff and had the unlocked psychokinetic potential of Jean Grey at their disposal.

The Execution

The movie really follows Andrew, and it really shines through our following his incredibly hard life. Even before any CGI is thrown in, we’re introduced to Andrew’s life, and to be honest, the whole movie only lives and breathes by the nuances of Andrew’s ordeals. It involves a father who hasn’t worked as a firefighter since an accident won him an insurance claim that the family barely survives on, especially since Andrew’s mother started dying from cancer. It involves Andrew’s father verbally and physical abusing Andrew due to his own frustrations with work and Andrew’s mother’s suffering. It involves Andrew’s mother still feigning a smile to ease the weight on her son’s shoulders as he and his father struggle to pay medicines they can’t afford. It involves Andrew living in a bad neighborhood complete with your token group of playground drug-dealers. It involves Andrew being that kid that no one notices, that everyone pushes around at school, that everyone tries to ignore as soon as they’re done making fun of him.

Yes, Andrew is exactly the kind of kid you don’t want anywhere near vast superhuman powers.

Andrew learning lessons of ecology and Darwinism. Especially what it means to be the “Apex Predator”.

But here’s where I say that Chronicle shines. It takes something that–while true for many adolescents growing up–has become a very typical and overused character in the media, and stills compels you to watch. Andrew’s descent into an emotionally troubled whirlwind of crazy is paced extremely well by the aforementioned Blair Witch camera gimmick and the natural progression of the story. Josh Trank really comes into his own with this: a story that isn’t rushed–a story that properly addresses character development in a genre where it’s so easy to attach a character type and move on.

Unfortunately, there’s less of this in the characters of Matt and Steve, whose characters remain relatively unchanged throughout the movie. This isn’t necessarily bad. In a sense, it’s honest, in that once people find their “type”, especially in High School, they cling to that identity, especially if it’s an accepted one like being a jock or slacker. And while Steve’s character is ultimately as likeable as the story wrote him to be, Matt’s character is virtually bland until the proverbial shit hits the fan later in the movie. Again, this is clearly Andrew’s movie, from beginning to end.

The only time that this becomes a problem is when we approach the end, and Andrew begins to become less sympathetic and more… annoying. It certainly doesn’t hurt the scope of the movie, but be prepared for Andrew to have some times where, like many teenagers, you just get tired of the whining. This is either a fault of the script, or a testament to the believability of Trank and Landis, who have given us characters so true that they’re as tiring as real life teens.

The Blair Witch Gimmick

Many prospective ticket-buyers may be scared by the idea that this movie follows the documentary style of filming made popular by The Blair Witch Project, Paranormal Activity, District 9, and all of their ripoffs.

Don’t be.

I was a little concerned with this idea and how it would be maintained later in the film, especially since in the trailers we see Andrew doing some feats of telekinetic power that had the city coming apart and the city police after him. What comes off as a cheap gimmick to some is actually incorporated tremendously well, which is another testament to Trank’s directorial strengths.

Thematically, the use of this style of film-making becomes as much an extension of Andrew’s character as his dialogue. Andrew’s obsession with filming everything in his life (even before he gets powers) really helps the audience to understand exactly how antisocial he’s become due to the emotional shit he goes through every minute of his life. If anything, the camera becomes his friend, his confidant, a journal. His personal chronicle (name drop!).

And if you’re wondering how the hell a camera gets lugged around even during flying, intimate moments, scenes devoid of Andrew, and climatic Akira-level telekinetic brawls, there’s a simple answer for that. Between the trio’s growing power that allows them to levitate it effortlessly in the air and the fact that the movie is seen through not just the trio’s camera, but anyone’s camera, you’ll see several scenes from the POV of other characters and from security footage, helicopter cameras, and iPhones, especially later in the movie.

Final Word

While not the best, this is as much a superhero movie as any Marvel or DC movie that has ever come out. It truly shines in that light, because while the narrative is strong, the technical beauty of the visuals will be just as enticing as the story. Watching the boys hone their powers, go through delight and despair, find levity and face consequences, made me realize that Chronicle is as much an origin story as any superhero’s or villain’s we’ve ever seen. Chronicle excels in the “superheroes in the real world” department far more than Hancock or Heroes ever did, especially because it progresses from such a small and personal tale to an ending so grand that you can’t help but wish for a sequel (and then secretly wish against it for the sake of the first movie). By the end I was truly immersed in this world and found myself actually wondering “What happens next?”

If the Chinese Zodiac was rewritten through the lens of Hollywood trends, this would definitely be the year of the Superhero. As a writer, reader, and moviegoer, and especially as a comic book fan, I’m telling you: go watch this movie, especially if you’re looking to whet your appetite for the bigger comic book movies coming out this year. It’ll go down far better than Ghost Rider and it may even color your opinion on the “real world superheroes” film genre in a way you didn’t think it could.

CM Gives Chronicle


Telekinetic NoseBleeds Out of 5!

(this post originally appeared on Infinite Ammo)

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