What is Chronicle? Take Carrie. Now rub it up against the seminal Japanese film Akira. Now take out all the cool “superpowers as allegories for teenager junk” stuff. And add a ton of fight scene that are really really fun.

That is Chronicle.

A pair of surly teenage boy cousins, Andrew and Matt, (Dane DeHann and Alex Russell) and they’re pseudo friend Steve (The Wire and Parenthood‘s Michael B. Jordan) are out at a rave in Seattle when Steve and Matt go off and discover something cool. As Andrew was the creeper at the party recording everything with his camera just because they drag him along to film their investigation of the “something cool.”

We never quite get a glimpse of what it is. We’re never told how it arrived. Is it some magical mineral pushing itself to the surface? A meteorite burrowing down into the earth’s crust? These kids, and this film, do not care. All that matter is that it gives the boy the power of telekinesis. That means they can fly. And move things with their minds. And make themselves super strong. Or even invincible.

What follows is exactly what you would expect to happen when three teenage boys get super powers. A lot of playing around, some death, and some tremendous displays of power that will give next year’s Superman a run for its money. We don’t often get films where people fly around at subsonic speeds and punch people through buildings. I’m not sure why. Even with the dodgy special effects of Chronicle it’s visceral and good fun.

And those effects are incredibly dogdy. Ostensibly this is one of the reasons it was shot as a “found footage” film. The film is grainy like it was pulled off of some kid’s camcorder or iPhone and that allows them to play fast and loose with all the floating baseballs and teddy bears and teenage boys. Only it is still very clear that CGI is being employed. There’s one particularly bad moment with a CGI baseball that had me irritated with the filmmakers but in love with the actors.

Michael B. Jordan, in particular, is a delight as the popular and cool and genuinely nice Steve. I’d even dare to say he’s the best part. Jordan has been killing it on the small screen on The Wire and Friday Night Lights and Parenthood and here he proves that he absolutely has what it takes to be a movie star. The guy is just that good.  Hopefully some film studio will recognize Jordan’s talent and get this guy a multi-picture deal where he plays a cool young superhero. Is Static Shock still a thing? I would totally watch Jordan electrocuting bad guys and providing a nice counterpoint to all the white superheroes currently available.

The other two guys that get super powers might be as good as Jordan, but they never actually get a chance to shine. They’re saddled with a very clichéd “brothers with superpowers” story…which is impressive as I didn’t know there was a “brothers with superpowers” cliché until I was more than halfway through the film. One is inherently good and kind and clever and incorruptible–even when given the powers of a god. The other is inherently corruptible. They disagree. Bad things happen. They fight.

There is something cool though. Earlier today I talked about “gimmicks” in filmmaking. Found footage. The shaking cameras, the poor film quality. That’s as bad and overused a gimmick as there is in modern cinema. Yet the filmmaker, Josh Trank, actually uses the found footage concept to his advantage.  He allows the conceit of a kid that records everything to be a fundamental part of the character. His camera and his documenting of his powers inform his character. No. They define him. And that’s flipping cool.

They also use the whole superpowers thing to their advantage. Shots that are impossible in most found footage films are liberally used. If the characters are controlling the cameras with their minds then yes we can see all of them at once without worrying about whose holding the camera and yes we can do cool crane shots and yes we can get multiple angles on a scene because they’ve stolen a dozen cameras and are controlling them all with their minds.

That’s just neat. Neat enough, at least for me, to overlook the fairly unoriginal and uninspired story by Max Landis (son of John) and the bad special effects. If Josh Trank keeps being this original in how he shoots his films then he could become a really exciting filmmaker instead of just being known as the guy who finally got that live-action Akira film on-screen.

Notes

  • This is another in the long line of films and television shows were teenage boys are idiots just because. I realize a lot of teenage boys are but it’s fast becoming a cliché folks.
  • Seriously, Michael B. Jordan is amazing in this film. I’m legitimately upset that he wasn’t the hero of the film.
  • I made no mention of women in the review above. This is because the women are all either dying moms or cute and bangable girls. Do not go into this film expecting to see a superpowered chick or an interesting representation of women.
  • There is one girl who’s almost interesting. She’s a love interest who records everything for her blog (but she’s cute so that means it isn’t creepy apparently). Unfortunately she’s in all of three scenes and exists as nothing more than a camerawoman for scenes that need extra coverage.
  • Note to abusive asshole dads. Be careful. One day your kid may get superpowers and fuck your shit up.
  • http://www.facebook.com/laura.v.tolin Laura V. Tolin

    So very much AKIRA!!