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Catching Up on 2012: Josh Reviews Chronicle

March 11th, 2013

I wasn’t much interested in Chronicle when it was first released.  The “found footage” device felt over-played to me, and the footage in the trailers I saw had a low-budget vibe that made me feel like this would be super-heroes done on the cheap.  But I kept reading great things about the film, so I decided to give it a shot. I am so glad I did, because the film is fantastic!

Written by Max Landis and directed by Josh Trank (the two men are both credited with developing the film’s story), Chronicle is the story of three high school kids who gain super-powers.  The three boys don’t generally travel in the same circles.  Andrew and Matt are cousins, but Andrew is a withdrawn, lonely kid with few friends.  Matt seems far more well-adjusted but he’s a teenager too, with plenty of awkwardness and insecurities of his own.  Then there is Steve, a very popular, well-liked kid.  The three boys are very different from one another, but suddenly they find they have an incredible secret to keep together from the world and, as the boys begin developing their powers (which they eventually discover include telekinesis and flight) they become fast friends.  But as their powers grow, and Andrew’s already-tough life grows even more difficult as he continues to suffer abuse from his cruel father and humiliations at school, a schism forms between the trio.  Andrew becomes increasingly angry and withdrawn, and Matt and Steve worry that, with his powers, Andrew could become a danger to himself and others.  Things go badly from there.

Chronicle is a terrific film, a classic case of taking a super-hero story very, very seriously.  There are no costumes or capes or spandex in this film.  I’d say it’s closest companion would be M. Night Shyamalan’s phenomenal and underrated film Unbreakable.  Both films dig deep into the idea of what would really happen if normal people somehow attained super-powers.  But whereas Unbreakable is slow, quiet, and stately, Chronicle is a rock-and-roll version of a super-hero film, fast-moving and, at the end, jaw-droppingly action-packed.

The first half of Chronicle is a lot of fun, as the boys euphorically discover their new-found abilities.  But the film attains its power in the second half, in which Andrew begins a slide into evil and Matt soon realizes that he is going to have to stop his cousin, at all costs.  I love this story-line.  Andrew’s descent into cruelty and villainy is what Anakin Skywalker’s fall to the Dark Side should have been in the Star Wars prequels.  It’s agonizing to watch as the tragedy begins to unfold.  The filmmakers did an incredible job of showing us how life slowly chips away at the boy we met at the start of the film, until all we are left with is a bitter, angry, violent shell.  With superpowers.  If you are reminded of Akira, so was I.  There are definitely shades of Tetsuo in Andrew’s story.

I have referenced several films that Chronicle reminded me of, but I never felt the film was derivative.  No, in the same way that George Lucas’ original Star Wars combined all sorts of influences into a creation that was vibrant and new, so too does Chronicle throw all sorts of movies and comic book ideas into the blender to create a potent new mix that, while some of the story-lines might be familiar, feels very fresh and original.

And when the shit really starts going down at the end of the film, it is epic.  I’m not sure how exactly they pulled off the big action climax, but it is spectacular, a super-powered super-fight right in the middle of a city.  And because the film has been so successful at making you care about the characters, this fight has an emotional weight on top of it’s cool eye-candy.  That is impressive, indeed.

I have heard rumblings of a possible sequel being developed.  That would be cool, but I don’t need it.  Chronicle is a great film all on its own, and I felt the story was completed.  (Meanwhile, director Josh Trank is rumored to be directing a new film-version of the Fantastic Four.  I love that idea.)  I’m glad to have seen Chronicle, I really enjoyed the heck out of it.

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