I stumbled upon Chronicle completely by chance after finding a video of the screenwriter Max Landis talking about Superman on YouTube. From this video I really discovered two things – the first was that this guy has some interesting ideas and knows his comics. The second was that he was annoying. But I decided to give his film a chance anyway, after all if I didn’t watch films made by or starring annoying people then I would never get to watch anything.
Chronicle is a found footage type film – like Blair Witch or Cloverfield (I should probably say that I love both those films and love found footage films in general) – about a group of three American teenagers that get superpowers: not slightly unlikely superpowers like the ability to stretch your arms or stick to walls, but a proper one – telekinesis. Telekinesis – the power to move things with your mind – is not a very well explored power in films or even in comics, probably because it is hard to visually represent, but also because Jean Grey ruined it for everyone by being so incredibly tedious. It’s a great superpower and you can tell Max Landis has spent a lot of time pondering over the ‘what superpower would you have?’ question and made a very sensible choice, (though since you asked, I’d go for shape-shifting. Screw everyone that says ‘flight’, think about it more! You’ll waste your wish!).
It’s a lot of fun watching the three teenagers learn their powers, there is a sense of absolute glee as they discover new tricks that is really contagious and is done far better than similar scenes in other films. In fact it takes up most of the film and that was quite alright with me, it was really entertaining and the found footage style made it seem all the more believable. Everyone would love a super power, but no matter how many gamma bombs you expose yourself to you are never going to get one (sorry), but this film is kinda like how it could be if you and your friends somehow managed it.
A lot of superhero films seem stuck telling the origin over and over, making the viewer sit patiently through a story they probably already know waiting for the eventual donning of the costume and action. Origins are not necessarily boring, but as a comic book reader I can’t think of a single origin story that is even close to the best story involving that character. Superman’s origins? A small farm in Kansas, learning to fly, etc etc – it’s mind numbingly dull compared to the amazing adventures he has later on battling cosmic evil. I generally hate origin stories for wasting time that could be spent on better stories and with the way cinema reboots Superheroes constantly there really do feel like more origin stories out there than we really need.
But then Chronicle is a classic superhero origin story: most popular superheroes had their origins written by people like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby many decades ago when the big mystery was radiation. Gamma radiation; cosmic rays; radioactive spiders – they’ve all played their parts. Chronicle uses aliens which work well in an age where radiation is a bit less frightening and mysterious. Chronicle’s story is actually interesting as well, due to the fact that for once I had no preconceptions about the characters. Sure they are fairly typical high school sorts (one quotes philosophy, that’s his defining character trait) but their learning experience seems very credible: scenes of giddy excitement and joy, mischief, mistakes etc are all plausible and handled well, again made all the more believable by the found footage style.
The special effects are flawless, again this is helped by the style. This was the case with the similar Cloverfield – the shaky camera style allows for trickery that really makes the effects look better than they have any right to be at a presumably quite small budget. The film is well directed and well acted. The final showdown is also well done, maybe a bit predictable and with some motivations feeling a bit forced/heavy handed, but still entertaining. I think there are plans for Chronicle 2 but I have to admit I don’t see that working very well. For me Chronicle was a success because it did the origin/learning new powers thing in such a believable way and any subsequent story involving the characters seems unnecessary. But we’ll see.