Chronicle

2012-02-17 15:10
 
Chronicle
What it's about:

After discovering a mysterious artefact, three high schoolers gain super powers but it's not long before they find their lives spiralling out of control as they try to come to terms with their newfound telekinetic abilities.

What we thought:

Chronicle, the latest cinematic deconstruction of the superhero may strike those who are new to the genre as a true original, but for those of us weaned on comics over the last quarter century – or avid filmgoers who have already sat through Kick Ass, Watchmen, The Incredibles, Defendor, Super and Mystery Men - could tell you, there is nothing new or inventive about turning the superhero on its head.

Frankly, we're getting perilously close to the point where the truly revolutionary thing to do with these quintessential American myths would be to give them back their capes and their tights; to return to them the right to wear their underpants on the outside and to allow them to once again stand as larger-than-life metaphors for the best of human idealism. And yet, for all that Chronicle is far from original in its implicitly cynical attempts to bring the superhero down to our level, it is more than smart and engaging enough to justify its own existence.

Effectively, Chronicle has, as its premise, the exact opposite of the central conceit on which Kick Ass was based: rather than wondering, as Kick Ass did, why a normal flesh-and-blood human can't be a superhero, Chronicle wonders why someone with superpowers would ever bother to become a superhero in the first place. Once again, original this ain't – think Spider-Man before he learns the lesson that "with great power comes great responsibility" – but the teenage "heroes" of Chronicle don't use their newfound powers to help others, they use them to pull girls, improve their popularity and play silly pranks before realising, like Peter Parker before them, that their powers could influence their lives – and the lives of others – in far more profound ways.

Chronicle's greatest strength lies not its originality or its premise, but in its exploration of three archetypal yet believable teenagers as it uses its paranormal trappings to shine a light on the real experience of being caught between childhood and adulthood. We have Steve (Michael B Jordan), the popular and likeable people-person who uses his powers with happy abandon, which stands in stark contrast to Matt (Alex Russell) whose level-headed sense of responsibility causes him to be more conservative with his powers, going so far as to limit how he and the other two should use them.

And then there is Andrew (Dane DeHaan), our point of view character, whose toxic home life and withdrawn, sullen personality are the perfect catalysts for his quickly evolving understanding of what "power" truly means.

As the film progresses, it does become more and more a conventional superhero/supervillain origin story but it works specifically because it never loses sight of the three characters – all very well  portrayed by mostly unknown actors – at the centre of its story. Its focus and emotional forthrightness are so impressive, in fact, that I am tempted to entirely forgive its failings and give it a higher score but its reliance on that increasingly tired storytelling device of the found-footage, faux-documentary does it no favours at all.

However much it may be nice to see this device used for something other than a horror film and however much it can be argued that there are points in the story that call for the voyeuristic nature of the hand-held, home-video camera, it's ultimately far too distracting and far too annoying to ever truly obscure the simple fact that the film would have worked far better using a far more conventional style of shooting.

It's story and its characters are good enough – additional gimmicks do nothing but obscure the film's otherwise potent emotional power.


An engaging, humanist take on the superhero film that is let down by an unneeded gimmick and the sense that it's far less ground-breaking than it believes itself to be.
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Jared 2012/02/23 10:42 AM
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This is not a super hero story and the storyline leaves much to be desired. Handheld camera filming technique is irritating at best.
Justin 2012/02/24 11:02 AM
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No mention that it was shot in Cape Town? Guess they must have done a good job of hiding that
Ian 2012/02/24 12:41 PM
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at Justin. What is the problem with a film shot in Cape Town? it's good to see mainstream movies being shot locally, or are you embarrassedd to be a South African.
Ilan Preskovsky 2012/02/24 5:25 PM
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I actually only learned that it was shot in Cape Town after I submitted this review. I'm fairly familiar with Cape Town but I didn't recognize it at all while watching the film.
Riaan 2012/03/02 8:18 AM
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I really enjoyed this movie, and the only thing I could recognize from South Africa was when they were in the pharmacy. Haha, those vitamins were stacked like every Dischem in SA
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