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Overall Rating

Worth A Look33.33%
Average: 29.63%
Pretty Bad: 3.7%
Total Crap: 0%

3 reviews, 9 user ratings

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by Brett Gallman

"Come for the gimmick, stay for the good movie beneath it."
4 stars

By now, you've probably heard that "Chronicle" is the found footage riff on superhero movies that all but abandons its gimmick by the time it ends. This much is true--in fact, you'll be wondering why director Josh Trank even took the approach when his camera(s) are gracefully swooping and swooshing around during an outstandingly realized action centerpiece. However, you also probably won't care too much since it's all so thrilling and grand, matching many other big-budget comic book movies released during the past decade.

But that's getting ahead a bit. "Chronicle" becomes great during that climax, but it's built upon an already solid foundation that essentially updates a classic Marvel Comics trope of average teens suddenly gaining superpowers. In this case, Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is the primary chronicler of the film's events, which see him, his cousin (Alex Russell), and another classmate (Michael B. Jordan) stumble upon mysterious machinery buried in the ground. They investigate, black out, and suddenly wake up with the ability to manipulate objects with their minds.

"Chronicle" is admittedly listless in the early-going as we watch the guys discover the full extent of their powers; it probably doesn't help that the trailers revealed a lot of the gags here that make the film play out like an updated version of "Zapped." Just as that film correctly surmised that teenage guys would immediately use such powers for amusement, so too does this one, as the trio manage to peek up girls' skirts and toy around with innocent bystanders in stores. This stuff works well enough, particularly because the trio of actors find good chemistry and actually feel like believable high school students.

If nothing else, the found footage aspect justifies itself here; not only does it bring us into these characters on a basic level, but it also subtly reinforces that sense of reality that these types of films bring. Found footage essentially thrives because it presents unusual circumstances in the guise of reality, and "Chronicle" is no different. There's a genuine sense of awe to seeing the feats performed; yes, we've seen them done in countless films, but something about the lo-fi, guerrilla approach here makes it feel like a huge event. It's almost ironic that it took this "gimmick"to make this kind of stuff feel wondrous again.

Appropriately enough, "Chronicle" really takes off when the characters learn to fly; it's also at this point that the handheld angle starts to dissipate, but we're at least provided an in-universe explanation since Andrew learns to manipulate the camera for a more cinematic effect. Despite this, both Trank and co-writer Max Landis completely capture the spectacle and allow us to drink it in alongside the characters. We're up there flying with them on that first flight, soaring amongst the clouds, and we can feel the trio's adrenaline-fuelled amazement.

It all builds to that climax, which is like a superhero take on "Cloverfield," with the last two standing (er, flying) walloping each other up in the Seattle skyline; again, this is something uncommon that's been made to feel very common lately, but not here. The way Trank pieces it all together, cobbling footage from nearby security cams and the cell phones of awe-struck spectators, is impressive. All of the action during this climactic sequence flows wonderfully, even if it does ask you to believe that nearly everyone holding a camera has a knack for capturing action better than seemingly most modern Hollywood directors. Somehow, the film-making style that's most germane to shaky, incoherent action actually results in something completely fluid and pleasing to watch.

Most importantly, though, is how Trank never loses sight of his characters; they are the heart of "Chronicle," a film that could have easily reveled in its spectacle. Instead, it cleverly re-jigs the super-hero origin story a bit by presenting it from the point-of-view of the eventual villain. Andrew is a tortured soul, a troubled teen from a broken home that's crumbling under the weight of a chronically ill mother and an abusive, alcoholic father. These are archetypal seeds that can be reaped either way in comic book mythology by either spurning a character to commit good or evil. "Chronicle" doesn't hem and haw with the obvious refrain here ("with great power comes great responsibility"); Trank and Landis sort of stay a step ahead of that because they seem to know that they've entered a dialogue here that's been going on for decades. Plus, they're more interested in filtering these expected moral quandaries through the relationships of its central characters and examining how these choices impact them on a personal level before escalating to the big stuff.

So instead of sticking with a Peter Parker stand-in, we get a kid in Andrew that could have easily grown up to be Doctor Doom. There's a slight hint of whiny petulance to him that's appropriate; at one point, his cousin Matt laments how hard it's always been to reach him and talk to him, and we're similarly kept at arm's reach. He feels like he'd be likeable enough if he just shed the self-destructive skin, and the film actually becomes rather fun once it hits the high school drama beats that briefly allow him to do that. "Chronicle" is brisk, perhaps too much so at times; it would have been nice to see more of Matt, who becomes the ying to Andrew's yang. He does get a sub-plot involving a female classmate (Ashley Hinshaw), who conveniently also has a passion for filming everything, and this is just about the only part of the film that's a bit too undercooked and obligatory.

Besides that, there's few missteps to be found here. I've since had it confirmed by press material, but I would have pegged both Trank and Landis as comic book fans just by seeing "Chronicle." They get that characters have hooked in those audiences for years, not so much the cool tricks they can pull off. They're even keen enough to realize exactly where we are in the conversation in terms of what specifically fascinates audiences--we're definitely in a grim and gritty era, and "Chronicle"borders on completely embracing that by putting an emo kid with an impending heel turn at its center.

However, it steps back from that ledge just enough to also feel gloriously old-fashioned; technically speaking, "Chronicle"does almost nothing completely fresh outside of its unique approach--this is an old story, well told (and there's even references to Jung and Plato that subtly hint that Trank and Landis are drawing from a universal consciousness). Despite not being based off of any existing property, this is a Comic Book Movie in every sense of the word, filled with blacks, whites, and few shades of grey.

It's hard to believe that as recently as fifteen years ago, big-budget movies like this were mostly a pipe-dream (with quality ones being stuff of pure fantasy). Now, we've become over-saturated with them, so much so that something like "Chronicle" feels necessary to shake the doldrums, to get us back to simply believing a man can fly--and caring about him when he comes crashing down.

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originally posted: 02/05/12 20:44:52
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User Comments

12/29/17 morris campbell not bad 4 stars
1/19/13 Ionicera surprisingly good but marred by cliched ending 4 stars
6/22/12 djdjehfhehgjdhejfdjjfhgfgjf chang A very talented cast and overall worth watching. Sequel! 5 stars
6/19/12 Z A smart movie that blends superheroes with the real teenager's angst 5 stars
2/21/12 Ry Poor Story. Very slow. No purpose. 2 stars
2/12/12 M A bit short and rushed, but well worth watching for finale alone 3 stars
2/06/12 Quigley Raises the bar of its genre. Better than any superhero film released in quite a while. 5 stars
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  03-Feb-2012 (PG-13)
  DVD: 15-May-2012


  DVD: 15-May-2012

Directed by
  Josh Trank

Written by
  John Landis
  Max Landis

  Dane DeHaan

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