Too often are superhero films forgiven for their shortcomings as quality entertainment because of mass audiences’ attachment to icons like Superman or Batman, and because their adoring fan bases help turn a tidy profit at the box office for the studios backing these films.
“Chronicle” has no multi-million dollar franchise to call its own, and that may just be a characteristic that works in its favor. Director Josh Trank makes an innovative feature debut, along with scribe Max Landis, in a film that soars past its more established superhero rivals.
When three high school students stumble upon a mysterious glowing object buried deep beneath the ground, their initial giddiness flourishes immensely when they slowly begin to realize they’ve acquired supernatural abilities such as telekinesis and the ability to soar high above the local Seattle skyline. Much like other uncanny heroes, their powers are exploited both for better and for worse.
While some may be deterred by the film’s found-footage-style cinematography, which has worked in films such as 2008’s “Cloverfield” but floundered in the recent “The Devil Inside Me,” it’s safe to say that “Chronicle” uses the concept to its advantage.
The film’s lead, Andrew (Dane DeHaan), begins to habitually shoot his bleak and lonely life as if it were a documentary, so when the events of his life take a turn towards fantasy, you’d believe he’d want to keep his camera out to capture the excitement.
DeHaan is joined by two other rising actors in Michael B. Jordan and Alex Russell, who help round out the lineup of this superhero trio.
While the boys couldn’t be more dissimilar at the film’s start, the bond that begins to form between them during the film’s running time makes for some genuinely sweet and touching moments that would normally feel contrived or forced in a big-budget superhero film.
Though some of the dilemmas in “Chronicle” develop with side characters, it becomes clear that the
drama belongs to DeHaan’s character Andrew. So when Andrew begins to display some darker tendencies with his powers, the other characters seem to step to the side.
This could simply be because “Chronicle” is ultimately Andrew’s story, but at times it feels as if you never really get to know
Andrew’s other friends. While the trio share a few great moments together, some of the dimensions of Jordan and Russell’s characters are never fully fleshed out.
This could be a criticism of the found-footage style, which often cuts from scene to scene without notice, leaving the audience to fill in certain moments and plot points with their own imagination. While filling in the blanks isn’t much to ask from audiences who enjoy films that ask them to think for themselves,
“Chronicle” does become occasionally sloppy, and at times it feels as if the film chooses style over storytelling.
Yet it’s safe to say that “Chronicle,” with a mostly taut script from Landis, is a carefully constructed piece of entertainment, the likes of which are few and far between nowadays. Trank maintains an assured hand for a director whose resume only boasts a few short films and episodes of the failed crime series “The Kill Point,” and maintains the film’s energy right up to its potentially garish climax.
“Chronicle” is a film with mysteries best left to unfold before an audience in the comfort of the theater, but it’s safe to say that it’s one that tells an effective tale of friendship and betrayal in a high school setting, in the context of a superhero film. That’s more than a lot of bigger superhero films can say.
To group “Chronicle” into a genre that includes such disappointments as “Daredevil” and “The Green Lantern” is doing it a disservice, as it’s far better than most of its comic book adaptation counterparts.