All superhero films are, on some level, empowerment fantasies. Their selling point is having the weak individual get the power to fight back against various stripes of oppressor. However, superhero films have largely been content to leave this element as a wish-fulfilment hook. This is not the case with Chronicle, a film based around the idea of what happens when a truly oppressed individual is given the power to do something about it.
The main character of Chronicle is Andrew Detner (Dane DeHaan), a misanthropic teenager, bullied at school, abused at home by his father (Michael Kelly), and forced to watch his severely ill mother die by inches. His only friend (and that’s using the term loosely) is Matt Garetty (Alex Russell) his cousin, who, as family, feels bound to keep Andrew company. In doing so he ends up dragging Andrew to a party, and then into a mysterious tunnel found by him and most-popular-kid-in-school Steve Montgomery (Michael B Jordan). The three emerge from the hole with telekinetic abilities, and the question then becomes: what will they do now?
Well, Andrew’s path plays pretty much how you would expect. But the film does well in not making the transition from sympathetic social outcast to vengeful superman too straightforward. Though we are introduced to Andrew in an interaction with his abusive father, it still took me a while to like him. He might be sympathetic, but Andrew is also a whiny, awkward creep. His likeability germinates gradually, as his new friendship with Steve and Matt brings him out of his shell. This then is a film that earns audience empathy. As such, when Andrew’s situation returns to its former unpleasantness, the tragedy of it is poignant even though you could see the shift coming a mile off.
However, the real triumph of Chronicle lies in the extent to which it captures the highs and lows of power. Normally, superheroic displays of power are used for empty, if excting spectacle. In Chronicle however, the displays also have a real emotional weight to them, especially when Andrew finally starts to fight back against his tormentors. Those are scenes that shock with their swift brutality, and yet also inspire a dark satisfaction. Here the wielding of power is not constrained by the usual black/white morality of superhero tales. This film has room for some grey.
This film then is a visceral experience, which is not afraid to complicate its thrills. However, it is not without flaws. The plotting towards the end feels perhaps too hasty in turning Andrew to the Dark Side, and the actual ending has a fairly ‘tacked on’ sort of feel. Also, there are acting issues. The cast is mostly fine. DeHaan and Russell are both solid performers, and Jordan is one of the most charismatic onscreen personages I’ve seen in a while. But there are occasional slip ups here and there. Probably the most inconsistent performer was Kelly, odd considering the man is something of a screen veteran. Also problematic are the special effects, which are on occasion fairly cheap.
But on the whole Chronicle is a really enjoyable film: thrilling, engaging and even a little touching. And in not shying away from the darkness, it even has a little depth compared with fellows like Iron Man or Batman: Begins. In short, and on the whole, I feel this year’s crop of superhero films has gotten off to a very good start. Keep it up 2012!
Movie Rating: 3.5/5