Chronicle. This is the superhero movie that I’ve been waiting for. I had high expectations and the movie mostly delivered.
A few years back, I began writing a screenplay which I will probably never finish now that I’ve seen Chronicle. It was going to be a look at what would happen to a normal man who gained superpowers out of emotional necessity. As a child, when he would get beat up at school, he would learn to become invincible. When teased and taunted, he would learn to become invisible. Well, spoiler alert for my probably-never-to-be-made movie, it ends badly as the pressure of these powers turns a sad and tragic character into the villain. In the end, our leading man (called Atlas by the media) cannot save the world from nuclear war and ends up the last man alive. The movie ends with the character floating into space, hoping for a miracle to end his suffering. No spoilers for Chronicle above, no worries.
Sad, right? Well Chronicle may not be as emotional, but it plays on a lot of the same notes. We follow three teenage boys as they are exposed to an alien/radioactive/whatever crystal formation and it gives them some extreme powers. We then watch what happens when hormones rage and these boys now have the power to change the world around them.
The movie is shot in the style of “found footage,” usually compared to things like Blair Witch Project or Cloverfield. Well, this movie does a smart thing and breaks a little from the formula in two significant ways. 1.) The leads, using their telekinetic abilities to move objects, learn early on to control the camera so they often can record their own actions. In a few action scenes, you forget that you’re looking through a video camera. It works in most cases. 2.) The movie deviates from using only one camera and utilizes a lot of other footage, such as closed-circuit cameras/phone cameras/news footage/and tons of other sources. In the intense finale, it’s especially effective. The only camera that I thought was a bit too forced was a shoe-horned female character which was “recording for her blog.” It was unnecessary and also created a distracting “love” story that didn’t have a place in this story.
So what worked?
The movie was extremely captivating. What happens to a teenager that’s been bullied his whole life, now that he can tear his bullies apart with a thought? It’s hard to watch in some instances but it’s definitely engaging. And maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always fantasized about being able to move objects or fly up into the clouds. But with that power… comes great responsibility. It’s not long into the movie that innocent people start getting caught in the crossfire. It’s a compelling story and one that I’m sure will prompt after-movie discussions about “What would you do?” and “Do you think we’d be like that?” I wouldn’t answer the questions so quickly and the black and white areas definitely become a little blurred after you watch the lives that these boys are living in.
Spoiler? I hesitate to say that I spoiled anything by referencing that one of the boys becomes a bit power hungry and loses control. That’s like saying “You spoiled Star Wars by telling me it was in space!” I knew this about the movie going in and I still enjoyed the ride, even knowing how the arc was going to go. I hope you have the same experience.
The story is only so compelling because some actors were chosen that definitely have some potential. The emotional center of the film is Dane DeHaan, starring as Andrew, the tortured soul who finds that his abilities could solve all of his problems. As his acts of aggression become more and more violent, it’s still hard to think of him as any sort of villain. The film does a splendid job of setting up exactly why he does some terrible things and it means that Chronicle definitely doesn’t stick to any sort of good/evil alignment, as most “superhero” movies would. The other two leads do well in their respective roles but don’t flex as much emotional muscle and tend to fall into more cliche high school teenager roles, which is totally fine for the most part.
The effects were also generally pretty spectacular. The intensity of the film really ramps up towards the end and I was worried that a (perceived) low-budget film like this wouldn’t keep up. But as cars exploded and fire showered from the skies, I was taken aback. It was just about as realistic as I would have expected.
Anything not work?
As I said towards the beginning, there’s a love story that’s kind of forced into the story that I didn’t appreciate.
Also the climax of the film was pretty intense but the actual closing scenes were a little lackluster. I’m not sure what I wanted necessarily but it felt a little abrupt and a little shaky. I understand the sentiment but the entire theater gave out a collective “…Oh. It’s over.” Figuratively. Not literally.
I really enjoyed Chronicle but I have a passion for superheroes and emotional stories of trials and tribulations, so this was right up my alley. If you’re not a fan of watching the uncomfortable transformation of a man into a monster, this film may not be for you. In a mediocre film season with some lackluster action movies, you may find Chronicle to be a solid choice.
What are your thoughts?