Found-footage movies are hot, and superhero movies are hot, so I imagine Chronicle — a found-footage superhero movie — being an easy pitch to the studio. The surprise is how serious and emotionally true the film turns out to be. Chronicle follows three high-school boys who stumble upon some sort of glowing object down a deep, dark hole; their proximity to it gives them telekinetic powers. The events are videotaped by Andrew (Dane DeHaan), a mopey kid with a miserable home life. Andrew’s cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and the popular kid Steve (Michael B. Jordan) at first have fun with their newfound abilities, making things — and eventually themselves — float around. But things get dark fast. This amazing power has been delivered into the hands of three basically good kids, which is fortunate for us all, but Andrew is beginning to crack.

Spurred on by rage, grief and panic, Andrew begins to do dumb, destructive things. Many in the audience may question why he doesn’t do this or that. In response I can only quote a nifty line from Stephen Hunter’s novel Dirty White Boys, describing a scared guy who freezes at a bad moment: “His mind was full of spiders and firecrackers.” Andrew is dealing with an alcoholic dad — a firefighter on disability — and a dying mom, whose much-needed pain meds his dad can’t begin to afford. This is stark stuff for a teenage superhero movie. It explains Andrew’s gradual transformation into a supervillain, and the good-hearted Matt and Steve, who have less complicated lives, try and fail to pull him back from his worst instincts. Why should Andrew try to do good — or try not to do evil — in this world? All it’s ever given him is pain.

Chronicle was made for $15 million by two 26-year-old newcomers — director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis (son of “Master of Horror” John Landis), who concocted the story together. It’s a fine calling card, with echoes of Akira as well as standard superhero-origin tales. Set in Seattle (but filmed primarily in Vancouver), the film looks glum and realistic — workable and believable soil out of which the fantastic can flower. The young actors swing from exuberance to fear with ease. After a while, Andrew’s camera is held aloft telekinetically so that we can see more; I wasn’t always convinced that the camera would be catching certain events so clearly, but by the climax, where the action becomes both exhilarating and terrifying, I didn’t much care.

The finale, indeed, makes a lot of what we’ve seen in much more expensive superhero films look stupid. Again, it’s all grounded in identifiable and intense emotions, with untold collateral damage that reminded me of the horrific destruction in an infamous issue of Alan Moore’s Miracleman comic. (If you’re familiar with it, you know what I mean; if not, don’t worry about it.) It’s the first movie since maybe Superman II that made me feel how frightening it might be to get caught between two gods in battle. Andrew, stooped over and burned and wearing a hospital gown, looks like an evil mutant, while Matt is Superman in jeans. The very end is a little facile, and points too eagerly towards a sequel, but that doesn’t seriously lessen the impact of a film that may well give this summer’s The Avengers — whose trailer before this movie already looks so been-there-done-that — a run for its (big) money.

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2 Comments on “Chronicle”

  1. jfsebastian Says:

    Glad to see it’s not just me who sees significant parallels between Chronicle and Miracleman (especially ep.15). I would be quite surprised if the makers of this film hadn’t seen the comic. That said, in the absence of a Miracleman movie (and, going on most cinema adaptations of classic comics, please let it stay that way), Chronicle was pretty impressive. Slightly cheesy ending though.

  2. Rob Gonsalves Says:

    Yeah, fortunately the same rights snafu that pisses us fans off by preventing reprint volumes of the Moore/Gaiman “Miracleman” issues will probably also prevent a movie version, which in any case would be an automatic NC-17 just on #15 and parts of #14 alone. The ending, as I wrote, stumps too openly for a sequel, which I hope doesn’t happen. Let Trank and Landis continue it as a comic if they want to.

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