A superhero movie minus the cliches
This is how the young Clark Kent must have felt.
If Clark Kent had been on Facebook.
For Andrew, Matt, and Steve - three self-absorbed Seattle high school buds who climb down a hole and emerge with telekinetic powers - coming to grips with their newfound skills not only is a challenge, but also a kick. First, the discovery phase: Hey, I can stop a projectile in midflight! I can build elaborate towers of Legos without laying a finger on a piece!
Then, the show-off phase, the practical jokes: repositioning a parked car in a supermarket lot, freaking out a kid with a giant, floating plush bear.
And then the uh-oh moment: With a wave of a hand, a truck careens off the highway.
All of which happens in the early going of Chronicle, a thrillingly inventive take on an old genre, a fun story that turns increasingly dark, a nerd-boy fantasy realized with cinematic flair.
With the work of writer Max Landis (director John Landis' son) and director Josh Trank (the shaky-cam Internet Star Wars salute "Stabbing at Leia's"), Chronicle boasts many of the familiar elements of the comic-book canon, of The X-Files and X-Men, of TV's Heroes. It also uses the sometimes problematic protagonists' POV device: Everything we're watching is ostensibly being filmed by one of the characters on a digital camera they're toting around - or levitating around. (Yes, there are some amazing overhead shots.) Think Cloverfield, only with better resolution and depth of field.
But Landis and Trank go beyond the usual superhero cliches, and beyond the easy pop-cult commentary about our obsession with self-documentation. Chronicle is a sobering story about damaged psyches, about the hurt of abuse. The film begins with Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan) locked in his bedroom, 7:30 in the morning, his father, already drunk, pounding on his door. To make matters worse, Andrew's mother is in the other room, connected to tubes, dying.
No wonder the kid feels elated and empowered when he finds he can move objects by sheer force of will. And no wonder things go haywire when he loses control of his emotions.
Chronicle is full of smart writing that isn't too smart. Matt Garetty (Alex Russell) is the cool intellectual snob of the trio, name-dropping Plato, Schopenhauer, and Jung - and getting his comeuppance when the three friends go to a rave, and the girl he admires from afar quips, "What did Jung have to say about Glow Sticks?"
Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan) is a charismatic African American kid, already plotting his political career. He's popular, he's focused, and the nosebleeds he and his two pals are getting from exercising their new superpowers seem a small price to pay. But then, he pays a bigger price.
No spoilers here, but Chronicle's final, furious act - which uses lots of "surveillance video" and closed circuit TV footage from all around downtown Seattle - is an exhilarating feat.
In fact, Chronicle is pretty exhilarating, start to finish.