Chronicle

Cast:
Dane DeHaan as Andrew Detmer
Alex Russell as Matt Garetty
Michael B. Jordan as Steve Montgomery
Michael Kelly as Richard Detmer
Ashley Hinshaw as Casey Letter
Bo Petersen as Karen Detmer
Anna Wood as Monica
Rudi Malcolm as Wayne
Luke Tyler as Sean
Crystal-Donna Roberts as Samantha
Adrian Collins as Costly
Grant Powell as Howard
Armand Aucamp as Austin
Nicole Bailey as Cala
Lynita Crofford as Casey’s Mom

Directed by Josh Trank

Summary:
“Chronicle” uses familiar themes and standard visual effects to tell a superhero story that feels fresh and original. If you can stand the shaky camerawork and you love comic book movies, this is worth checking out.

Story:
Andrew Detmer is a troubled young teenager. His father is an abusive alcoholic. His mother is dying of cancer. He’s picked on at school and no girls are interested in him. Andrew’s only friend is his cousin, Matt Garetty. As a way of placing a barrier between him and real life, he begins filming his everyday life with a video camera.

Everything changes when Matt, Andrew, and the most popular kid in school, Steve Montgomery, find a mysterious object buried in the ground in the woods. Soon after being exposed to its strange energies, the trio starts to exhibit telekinetic powers. The boys begin developing their new abilities and do all the things you might expect teenagers to do with them. They pull pranks, they roughhouse with each other, and they flirt with girls. But soon enough they discover that it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

“Chronicle” is rated PG-13 for intense action and violence, thematic material, some language, sexual content and teen drinking.

What Worked:
To me, the amazing thing about “Chronicle” is the fact that it’s not doing anything new, but it’s doing it all in a way that feels new. “Unbreakable” gave us a reality based look at people developing superpowers. The same goes with the early episodes of “Heroes.” “Kick-Ass” gave us teenagers trying to become superheroes and the real results of what might happen if they attempted that. And, of course, you have the classic story of the picked-on kid becoming the hero in “Spider-Man.” “Chronicle” takes all of that and wraps it in the ‘found footage’ format of “Cloverfield.” The end result is a great comic book movie that never had a comic book. It feels a lot like a movie based on the “Harbinger” comic, Brian Michael Bendis’ “Brilliant,” or a Marvel Ultimate Universe comic.

This film has several distinct chapters with distinct tones. After the initial introduction of the characters, they waste no time showing Andrew, Steve, and Matt playing with their new powers. This is the most lighthearted and fun part of the movie. You see them using their telekinetic powers to manipulate toys. You see them messing with kids at a toy store. None of this stuff requires groundbreaking special effects, but it’s all so fun to see because you’re emotionally invested in the characters. But the real fun comes when the characters eventually learn to fly (which isn’t a spoiler if you’ve seen the movie poster). This is one of the most fun sequences of the movie and it gives a great reality-based perspective to the experience that most comic book movies haven’t adequately captured.

But as you also know from the trailers, things eventually take a dark turn. For every fun and lighthearted telekinetic stunt they show in the previous chapters, they have an equally dark and disturbing stunt in this portion of the film. I don’t want to spoil them here, but I was impressed.

The lead actors are excellent in “Chronicle.” Dane DeHaan looks like Leonardo DiCaprio’s little brother here. He’s the central focus of the story and essentially the Peter Parker of film. They perfectly establish that this is a young man at a turning point in his life. A push one way and he’s capable of incredible acts of good. A push another way and he’s capable of incredible acts of violence. And as he walks into his high school with his superpowers, you see every nasty look from a girl and every harassment from a bully pushing him farther and farther to the dark side. It’s a great lesson for teenagers as we see a kid every year walk into a school and start shooting classmates. This is an analogy of that with superpowers rather than guns, and DeHaan perfectly embodies the picked-on, loner youth.

DeHaan is joined by Alex Russell as Matt Garetty. As much as DeHaan resembles young DiCaprio, this guy looks like James Franco’s little brother. He also has a great performance as he tries to be the moral compass for the superpowered trio. Michael B. Jordan is also excellent as Steve Montgomery. He’s the popular kid with the bright future, so it’s fun to see him cut loose with his powers and have a bit of mischievous fun.

I also have to credit “Chronicle” for its tight running time of 83 minutes. There’s very little fat in this script by Max Landis (yes, son of John Landis) and Josh Trank.

What Didn’t Work:
“Chronicle” is another film in the ‘found footage’ genre. I’m kind of on the fence about the format. On the one hand, I hate the shaky camerawork of these films. By the end of watching them, I usually have a headache. I’ve never had a problem with 3D presentations, but these things shaking on the big screen can make you motion sick. “Chronicle” tones it down somewhat as Andrew learns to float the camera around with his powers. But if you couldn’t handle “Cloverfield,” you might have problems with “Chronicle.”

Camera issues aside, the found footage format alternately works and does not work for this movie. Early on it helps because it puts you inside the head of Andrew. You experience everything exactly as he does and it gives you an intimate look at the character which you wouldn’t otherwise get. But in the grand finale of the film, the format seems a bit forced as the movie has to resort to security footage, swiped iPhones, news footage, and police dashboard cameras to tell the story. The narrative seems constrained by the format at that point.

The Bottom Line:
Overall, if you like superhero movies then this is required viewing for you. And I hope they do a sequel.

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