DVD Review: Chronicle

One of the interesting things about the explosion of comic book and superhero films as a credible genre is that those without an established canon are getting cinematic treatment. You don’t have to be a Marvel or DC hero to get on the big screen; all you need is a good story and a cheap enough budget, it seems, to get a film made. Sometimes you get films like Sky High or The Incredibles, where were comic book genre films without originating in the medium, but hold up with the best of the genre. And then you get films like Chronicle, which is a nice start for a film in the genre but nowhere near a completed or a good film for the matter.

It has a rock solid premise. Using the found footage documentary style ripped off from horror films, the film follows three teenagers who gain super powers after an encounter with a glowing cube and have wildly different ways of viewing their use.

Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is not the most popular kids in school who decides one day to bring a video camera with him everywhere and document his life. His cousin Matt (Alex Russell) tries to help him become more popular, or at least not picked on, to little help. Matt’s friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan) is the quintessential high school jock and big man on campus. When the three leave a rave and encounter what is presumably alien technology, they gain the ability of telekinesis (the ability to move things with their mind).

After initially exploring their newfound powers, and using them to prank people, things take a darker turn when Andrew opts to use his abilities to get back at a world that has legitimately done him wrong. Starting off by getting back at the kids who bullied him in high school, things get dark when not just those who have wronged him come into his path. In the end it’s up to Matt to try and stop him before it gets completely out of control, culminating in a wild telekinetic brawl in downtown Seattle.

And it’s in this ending that the film tends to unravel. For the first two acts of Chronicle it’s a very engaging film. It’s essentially about the trials and travails of high school as seen through the eyes of Andrew, a dork, who is suddenly in command of powers that could prove lethal to those around him. Counterbalancing him are two people at the top of the high school food chain who are weaker than him with their powers; there’s a great dramatic story infused with superpowers waiting to come out of this. And for two acts it’s fairly engaging material.

Then it turns into a big, dumb action film.

It’s entertaining but it’s a weak way to end it. One can see why they did so, because what’s the point of having characters that can move things with their mind without them throwing cars and flying around, but it’s set up poorly. It’s as if the film has found a groove, and finding a place to exist, and then someone decided to shoehorn an expensive action set piece into it to make the film more commercial. There are so many different and better options the film could’ve gone, of course, and instead we get an action sequence that just feels out of place with the film’s tone.

DVD comes with two featurettes on the film’s visuals: Pre-Viz and Camera Test.

Chronicle is two-thirds of a great movie waiting to happen.

20th Century Fox presents Chronicle. Directed by Josh Trank. Starring Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Kelly and Alex Russell. Written by Max Landis. Running time: 84 minutes. Rated PG-13. Released: May 15, 2012. Available at Amazon.com.

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