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Josh Trank’s Chronicle has an intriguing premise in taking the superhero genre and transferring it to the Youtube generation.   Trank’s film takes the, well-worn at this point, found footage gimmick, and forms something both familiar and yet, completely unique at the same time.  The built up teen angst that provides subtext for most comic book superheroes provides the spine of the film as we meet Andrew (Dane DeHaan), an inward, lonely teenager who decides to film everything around him.  Along with his sensitive, faux philosophizing jock cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and popular class president Steve (Michael B. Jordan), they find a mysterious object that inexplicably gifts all three with telekinetic abilities and superpowers.  The rest of the film follows the young teenagers as they use their powers in all the ways that you would expect young teens to use them as they get frighteningly stronger and more powerful.

It’s a familiar origin story given a slight twist that keeps the film interesting.  At the its core, the film bears striking similarities to the first act of the Spider-man story but takes it completely turns it on its head and expands it to its own feature-length film.  It’s perhaps one of the great origin stories of all time so this kind of treatment is certainly welcome.  The ways in which it twists and turns that origin story around is where the film really comes into its own as we see our erstwhile Peter Parker, here in the form of detached nerd Andrew, form not into a heroic figure but rather a villain in his own piece.  This is all the more striking as we mainly see the entire story through his eyes.  He’s the one filming so, in a sense, we are getting his point of view and thus, sympathize with him all the more.

At the beginning, he is the put upon nerd and all of our sympathies go to him but as the character continues to grow and the darker edges of his personality take shape, Trank and co-writer Max Landis delight in subverting the audience’s expectations in our sympathetic character.  The other two characters are given some shading here and there but they are nowhere near developed enough.  The more heroic Matt, as played by Alex Russell, is the bland hero while Jordan, who plays Steve, has charm to spare but feels used sparingly.  Dehaan, however, is the real stand out here giving a real breakthrough performance, both garnering audience sympathy one second and terrifying them with violent actions the next.

The under developed one note aspect of many of the supporting characters is, in essence, a victim of the found footage format.  While the format gives us a good perspective on the nascent villain, everyone else feels like second thoughts.  The film really comes alive when the three teens attain their powers and start using them and discovering new aspects to them in Youtube style pranks that really cement the strong bond between the three characters that forms the deep rooting interest of the film.  If the other two characters feel thin on their own, in scenes in which they are goofing around and having fun with each other in these segments, the characters really come alive feeling like real teenagers sharing a deep, unique experience and friendship.

However, it’s in the second half, in which the film takes its darker turns that the found footage begins to get in the way of the character beats and story development.  When the viewer should be getting enthralled and engrossed in the climax of the film and the escalating build-up, the distraction of why certain scenes are being filmed begins to get in the way of the enjoyability of the film.  The found footage does its job in the first half really setting the tone and energy of the film but it’s as if the filmmakers didn’t have faith in their story so they continued the format beyond its initial usefulness.

Despite my objections with the format, the film does rise above its initial gimmickry and really tells a fun, energetic, and cohesive story.  The film rattles off the genre tropes with ease and a sense of fun.  The film’s pacing is fluid and energetic ticking off superhero conventions, setting up character, watching the transformation, the fun of discovery, and the eventual rise and fall of our heroes and villains.  The film escalates to an excitingly shot climax that hides its low-budget roots through a succession of shots taken from other sources but moves so quickly as for it not to become distracting.  If the filmmakers only had faith in the story they had to tell, which turns out to be a fun one, this could have been an even better movie but the over-reliance on the found footage, especially in the second half, hampers things somewhat.  A lame attempt at a romance sub-plot and a boring hero character also bring things down a bit but a strong performance from Dane DeHaan and an excitingly paced story more than make up for its faults.


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