Chronicle is the latest movie to use the found footage style, blending it with the superhero subgenre to mixed results. Because we’re so familiar with the limitations of the camera in films like this, when the movie breaks that mold – and it does this fairly often – it makes those sequences seem incredibly impressive. But ultimately Chronicle fails to achieve anything more than a few successful tricks here and there; it’s passable entertainment, sure, but if you’re buying into the hype surrounding the film, I’d encourage you to lower your expectations.
The movie is told through the perspective of Andrew, a kid who ostensibly buys a camera to document his father’s violent drunken outbursts, but ends up carrying it with him everywhere. Immediately, we’re presented with the film’s first problem: it doesn’t need to be shot in the found footage style. It’s got an interesting premise – three kids get superpowers, one turns evil – and that should be enough of a gimmick to get the filmmakers’ intended audience into theaters (especially during the first few months of the year, the notorious dumping grounds for studio films).
As the movie progresses, the restrictions of the format make less and less sense and no longer serve the storytelling. At one point, when two of the main characters face off near the Seattle skyline, one of them summons about a dozen camera phones from onlookers and assembles them in a floating circular pattern around his back for the sole purpose of allowing the filmmakers to cut to these different “cameras” to make the scene more visually interesting. It makes no sense in the grand scheme of the plot, or even as a character moment. It’s pointless and distracting, and a disservice to the central story. A token girlfriend character (Ashley Hinshaw) is introduced, and – surprise – she happens to be a blogger who carries around a camera with her all the time, documenting even the most meaningless conversations! Another cheap plot device, the purpose of which is only to expand the scope of the movie by viewing it through a different lens. Weak.
Seeing the trailers, I thought Chronicle would be compelling because it seemed to tell the story from the POV of the villain. But this actually ends up being the film’s weakest point because the villain isn’t actually interesting in any way. Sure, screenwriter Max Landis* (son of John) wants us to sympathize with Andrew: the character’s mother is dying, his drunken father beats him, he’s bullied constantly at school, etc. But Landis lays it on a bit too thick, giving Andrew one too many problems to handle and forcing him to take one too many beatings, which actually pulled me in the opposite direction – I was actively rooting against his character the entire time. Perhaps it was a combination of Dane DeHaan’s acting and the way Andrew was written, but I never felt for him at all. This is no Megamind: that film at least gave its villain some personality, but because of how pissy and insular Andrew was in Chronicle, I couldn’t have cared less about him.
But it wasn’t all bad. Michael B. Jordan was charismatic as hell as Steven, the popular kid who gains powers alongside Andrew and Andrew’s cousin Matt. Jordan was easily the most entertaining actor in the movie, and it looks like he’s got a promising career ahead of him. While I wouldn’t call any of the effects “dazzling,” there were a few flying sequences that stood out as highlights, and watching the guys essentially using The Force is full-on geek wish fulfillment. (Everyone agrees with me that the coolest part of Star Wars is The Force, right?)
But by the film’s ridiculous climax, the characters are flying around destroying a city with no repercussions whatsoever, reminiscent of Hancock. There are very little consequences in this movie, and for something that practically insists you take it as “real” thanks to the format in which it’s shot, there wasn’t much reality in the way things play out near the end of the film in relation to public reaction, police involvement, and identity. So if you can get past the unnecessary stylistic choice, Chronicle is a fine movie – it didn’t ever reach that undefinable “next level” for me, but I also don’t think it was trying too hard to get there. Until next time…
*Max Landis also released a funny short called The Death and Return of Superman, which stars Mandy Moore, Elijah Wood, Simon Pegg, and more. Check it out here.