One of my favorite comics of the last few years is Robert Kirkman’s Invincible. It tells the story of a regular teenager coming in to his superpowers. The comic eschews normal comic book conflict in favor of real, human problems. Chronicle takes a similar approach but goes one step further, stripping away all but the most necessary components of a super-hero story (the super powers themselves). This is the story of three young men who discover they have super powers and have no one to turn to for help other than each other.
The characters in Chronicle are cut from a pretty broad cloth. The three teens fit nicely in to familiar categories: the troubled outcast, the jock, the preppy. The jock (Matt) provides the connection between the others; he is the cousin of our troubled teen (Andrew) and friends with the preppy (Steve). When these three get super powers after discovering a mysterious object, we would have to be pretty vapid not to know where things are going. Give a troubled, abused teen super powers and things are bound to get bad before long. Chronicle doesn’t have much in the way of surprises for us. The teens behave like we expect movie teens in their situation to behave. There is inevitability to Andrew’s decline that permeates the film even during the festive scenes when the teens are discovering all of their new abilities. I’ve heard it suggested that the film could have been improved simply by changing which character goes “bad,” but that doesn’t work for me as it isn’t too uncommon to see a jock or a preppy go bad in genre films, which tend to celebrate the outcasts and vilify the popular. I think the characters, as archetypal as they may be, work well enough, thanks, mainly, to solid performances by the three principal actors.
The film is the first for director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis, who both come to the project after beginning in television. It is an auspicious debut for both. Though I would certainly have rather seen Trank abandon or, at least, supplement the “found footage” format, he keeps things moving briskly and provides the viewer with dozens of memorable images. The action scenes and big set pieces are especially well-handled, but the small, intimate scenes also play well. Perhaps that is helped along by Landis’s screenplay, which puts words in the characters’ mouths that you could actually imagine them saying, a rarity for genre films, and gets the core emotions of all three protagonists just right. Here’s hoping we can keep both of these gentlemen working in genre film for a while at least. Does the Invincible project still need a director? a sceenplay?
Chronicle isn’t a perfect picture by any means. I really disliked the poetic license the film took in order to get a camera in every scene (though the blending of hand-held and security cam footage was handled well). Every character not among the main three was completely flat and uninteresting. Still, despite those problems, the film was very enjoyable. I especially enjoyed the section in which the teens were learning what all they were capable of, and, especially, the amazing talent show. With any luck, getting such a solid genre picture in the wasteland that is February releases means we have a very good year to look forward to.