Teenagers find a mysterious alien something that gives them superpowers, and soon they learn that with great power comes great responsibility -– well, sort of. But if this sounds familiar, it’s because the new film Chronicle borrows from several different established superhero storylines, including Spider-Man, X-Men and even the television show Heroes, and twists those standards into something brutally more realistic and timely.
The story is an interesting and updated interpretation of the superhero mythos and it gets started quickly, but there are some unexplained jumps in exposition that will leave you scratching your head. Chronicle benefits from its use of the Blair Witch and Cloverfield documentary-style narrative, which shows the super-protagonist story from a perspective that we haven’t seen before. Unfortunately, the results of this story-telling gimmick are hit-and-miss, and at times it becomes a huge distraction.
The “found-footage” is taken from the principle character of angst-ridden Andrew Detmer (in a very nice performance by Dane DeHaan) but is also pieced together from fellow video bloggers, security cameras, and television news footage. At its best, the self-filming technique takes a unique turn when Andrew uses his powers to levitate his camera and follow the action, almost transitioning the movie into a traditional film. The worst use of this amateur footage approach is when the movie flips back and forth between dueling video bloggers having a conversation at a high school rave, trying way too hard to create a cohesive chronology. There is also a sequence where one of the heroes abandons his powers, apparently just so his girlfriend can shoot video as they drive (instead of flying) to a very well-constructed and suspenseful battle climax.
This new superhero story sports a very good cast of relative big-screen newcomers, a necessity for this style of film to work (as no one would ever believe it if someone found lost footage of Scarlett Johansson as a secret superhero). The special effects were top-notch and believable, and Chronicle is a fun and clever film that covers some interesting new ground in what is becoming a superhero saturated cinema market. Its biggest problem is that throughout the movie, there are too many times that the actors have to elucidate as to why there is camera recording them. This is meant to explain away the absurdity of the constant video recording, but instead draws attention to it, which makes one wonder if the standard filmmaking approach might have worked better.