‘Chronicle’ Movie Review: Flawed but Superpowered

Packaged as a quasi-superhero and sci-fi romp, “Chronicle” centers on the incredible discovery of three high school boys, which leads to their development of uncanny powers. As they learn to utilize their newfound telekinetic abilities, the trio finds themselves in the best times of their lives. However, one of them, Andrew, the least popular and often bullied and battered boy of the group, finds himself filled up to the brim with how society treats him. He gets consumed by his superpowers, which readily brings his expression of anger to destructive proportions.

This movie primarily utilizes a found-footage format. However, amidst being a generally engaging piece, the way it handles its found-footage storytelling is poor and inconsistent. The premise involving Andrew’s decision to document things around him starts out with both technical and creative promise, but midway, the format gets really forced into the story.

Unlike other found-footage movies that don’t deviate from showing materials directly captured on a character’s camera, this one sometimes jumps from such documented footage to traditional shots without the use of any camera present in the scenes. Unfortunately, there is no binding factor that makes these jumps cinematically linked to the film. The changes are mostly forced into the edit. It even gets to the point of coercing the establishment of another character who is fond of shooting videos and the security cameras in a convenience store and hospital to keep up with the movie’s found-footage treatment.

Interestingly, even though there is that proliferation of find-footage issues throughout the movie, the best thing about “Chronicle” is how it entertainingly captures the vision of its “Cloverfield-meets-Heroes” premise. It works as a superhero origin story less the body-hugging outfit, disguise mask, or fancy cape. As a sort of genre subversion, it welcomes the alchemy of indie sensibilities and coming-of-age struggles of a group of friends in a superhero-in-the-making set.

Inventively directed, cleverly written, and superbly acted, this mash-up of the superhero and high school genres presents a dark tale about the consequences of acquiring and abusing great power over others. The plot also pushes the main characters front and center, which provides a much deeper emotional investment to the story. It aptly showcases the dangers of the Darwinian concept of survival of the fittest. It also examines how even innocent lives can spin out of control when their dark sides starts taking over.

The three naturalistic performances of Dane DeHaan as the troubled outcast Andrew, Alex Russell as the cool, boyish, but still level-headed Matt, and Michael B. Jordan as the popular and promising guy Steve make an impeccable ensemble that helps create an in-your-face reality to the movie. These three leads render genuine, deeply absorbing, and complex characters hinged on youthful banters, camaraderie, and peer pressure. DeHaan’s striking role as the self-fashioned “apex predator” who rises from the ashes of being the passive victim is remarkably notable. The way he develops his character from start to end promotes a pitch-perfect execution. It becomes a star-turning role for a newcomer who is able to impressively connect with his audience.

Filmmaker Josh Trank successfully strips off the flamboyant side of comic book mutants and superhero flicks, then presents the superhero element of the story in its purest form. He is able to turn a considerably tired morality tale about the dangers of power into a dark and engaging piece. Gripping without becoming silly or overblown, viewers who are hungry for scary thrills and edgy and intelligent sci-fi components are aptly served in this interesting debut of a potential new franchise.

Regardless of its flaws, the film is still brimming with raw emotion, realism, and imagination. Its grim essentials set the mood and atmosphere the tale needs. It indulges in some wild and witty spectacles, excellent performances, exceptional pacing, and refreshing approach to its familiar story. Yet, there is enough restraint to develop the movie’s striking and volatile moments, especially by its explosive finale.

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