Audiences have been inundated with superhero blockbusters for over a decade, and rarely does the formula for the first series entry break any sort of mold. The new film Chronicle adds a twist to the mundane superhero recipe by utilizing “found footage” mystique.
The plot is simple, almost to the point of being too cheesy: three high schoolers (a dork, a burnout, and the class president) stumble upon a mysterious meteor that gives them telekinetic powers. Chronicle aims to be a “realistic” portrayal of three kids who happen to get superpowers, and their subsequent positive and negative actions.
The stereotypical leads and flat supporting characters make Chronicle a bit of a bore on the story front. The characters are too confined to social norms, perhaps in an attempt to make it relatable to everyone in the audience. Unfortunately, this makes for boring people on screen. Andrew, the aforementioned “dork” in the group, has an abusive, alcoholic father that spews out the most cliched lines ever captured on film. Michael B. Jordan, a young actor who is quite good given the right material (such as his work on NBC’s Friday Night Lights), doesn’t have much to work with in Chronicle, making his character’s “popular kid” persona seem stunted and without any noticeable flaws.
Chronicle’s story does take a few twists and turns, but they are easy to predict well before they happen. The typical superhero film beats are present, including the big battle at end. Unfortunately, the motivations for this battle are almost completely nonsensical, making the end of the film seem ridiculous and lengthy.
The idea behind Chronicle is novel, and if it is at all successful, it is due to the cinematography. Like The Blair Witch Project or Paranormal Activity, Chronicle uses a hand-held, “found footage” style. This type of camera work automatically lends itself toward realism because of its lack of cinematic polish. The audience knows that they are watching a work of fiction, but the shaky, amateur image grounds the story in the real world.
This lack of polish also stands in the film’s way. CGI is the nature of the beast when it comes to superhero movies, and the added graphical enhancements in Chronicle don’t seem fully baked. In one scene, the guys sit around a bedroom building Lego sculptures with only their minds. It’s a fun idea for a scene, but nothing about it looks remotely real. The pieces move too fluidly, the actors react a touch too early to what is going on, etc. Blair Witch and Paranormal Activity were able to circumvent the CG issue by never actually showing what the people were scared of, and those films seemed more realistic because of it. We need to see the kids in Chronicle use their powers, but that type of spectacle pulls the audience out of the grounded mindset.
I enjoyed watching Chronicle more than I expected to, and I believe it was due to the style choice made in shooting the film more so than the characters and plot. Just like Blair Witch before it, Chronicle feels like a new experience when you are watching it, but when you have time to think about what you saw, the film falls apart. A “found footage” superhero flick has endless potential, but Chronicle just doesn’t have the basic story and character elements to make it a good film.
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