Superhero movies are a dime a dozen these days, with predictably varied quality. From the good (e.g. Christopher Nolan’s Batman saga), the bad (Elektra, Whiteout), and the ugly (Spider-Man 3, The Spirit), to name but a few. Also popular these days is the now overused “found footage” style of film (Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity), which is supposed to make the action more immediate and realistic but is often just distracting.
But what happens if you combined those two things? Answer: Chronicle. This modern spin on the superhero genre the film follows three high school seniors who, one day after coming into contact with a strange object underground, develop super powers. Getting stronger each day, they soon start to find their bonds tested and that things are getting way out of control.
Chronicle takes the superhero film and turns it on its head, knowingly poking at the whole idea of characters having powers, while at the same time still having a blast with the concept. And it does what these types of movies rarely, if ever, do: they actually show the characters doing what most people would if they had superpowers. This is a bunch of high school guys we’re dealing with, of course they would mess around with people to freak them out, fly, test each other’s strength, use it to impress their friends (even if it’s under the disguise of a magic act at a talent show), and generally just take advantage of these amazing abilities. There’s something strangely relatable in that which grounds it in reality despite the outlandish concept.
The key to making the film work is the special effects involved. There are dodgy moments in there for sure, particularly when it comes to floating objects and the like, but for the most part the CGI is pretty cool and impressive, especially considering it was reportedly made for only $15 million, nothing compared to the hundreds of million spent on some superhero movies these days. This is a clear case of getting the most out of a relatively small budget.
The found footage aspect is also very interesting. In fact, it’s not really found footage in the usual sense. It does something quite original with that idea in that it shows us the action from any camera that happens to be filming. For instance, even when it’s not the main camera held by one of the boys, if there are people standing by with their phones recording what’s going on then we might see the events from that angle. So those adverse to or tired of found footage movies can at least savor the fact that it does something relatively new with the technique.
First-time director Josh Trank, definitely one to watch, finds inventive ways to get as much out of the concept as possible without feeling like he overdoes it. The script by Max Landis (who came up with the idea with Trank) also hits some surprisingly emotional beats to go along with the crazy power-enhanced antics; a subplot involving one of the trio’s father and dying mother adds a lot of weight to the proceedings and how it ties into the main plot is a nice touch as far as character motivation goes. By the end it has turned into a fundamental sort of struggling superhero story that we usually see in comic book form first before adapted for film.
Chronicle is perhaps a little too pleased with itself at times, and the characters are maybe a little hard to care about and invest in at points. But nevertheless this is a fresh, inventive and unique take on the superhero film, one with some solid performances by relative unknowns Alex Russell, Michael B. Jordan, and (especially) Dane DeHaan, and a plethora of “whoah!” moments that should have you discussing, and recommending, afterwards. Copycats are inevitable but this is a definite must-see.