There is one aspect of Spiderman’s origin story that makes him the most relatable and realistic superhero. It’s not just that he is a teenager, struggling with high school and pining after a super-hot girl that he can never hope to impress or even catch the attention of. It’s the fact that the first thing he does when he realises he has superpowers isn’t saving a school-bus full of children or foiling a mugging, but making some money from his newfound abilities.
He enters a wrestling tournament and becomes a minor success. It’s a great little aspect and a realistic touch, with the dramatic death of his Uncle Ben being the reason he turns to crime fighting and superhero-ing. That is one of the reasons that Chronicle works so well. It’s not about a group of teenage boys that discover they have superpowers and then decide to save their community, or even save each other, but instead what happens when great power comes with very little responsibility.
This is where the second positive of Chronicle comes into the play, the “found footage” formula. It adds the realism and gritty element that the movie works best with. The first part of the film, after the boys get their powers, is the experimenting with their abilities. This places you in their shoes, from the tiny, prank like actions in the local store to the bigger, more threatening and scary moments like when they discover they can use their powers to fly!
It also means that our best avenue into the action is through the actors themselves and we have some very good performances. There is no weak link in the movie but there is certainly one actor that manages to stand-out. The most troubled of the boys is Andrew Detmer played by Dane DeHaan. He gets to showcase his acting, from finally having friends and becoming accepted to demonstrating the fall of his control and how the powers begin to corrupt him. He steals the whole show, particularly the final act, and it gives me confident now that DeHaan has been cast in The Amazing Spiderman sequel as Harry Osbourne.
It is that final act that the cracks begin to show though. The film works best as an intimate, close movie, with the found footage giving a very intimate access to the teenagers use of their powers, be them for pranks or something much darker. It helps their characters grow and their friendships form so when the cracks do develop, the impact is much bigger.
The film has a huge final act, full of action and elements that fit much more in the “superhero” genre. Found footage doesn’t lend itself very well to this though and the effect of these feels lost in the attempts to play everything through CCTV, News Cameras or other people’s camera-phones. It obviously helped to keep the budget down but when cars are flying across the screen or our characters are battling in the sky, the found footage takes something away from this bigger moments it struggles to capture effectively.
That big final act is not what the film is about though. Its much more about what people would do if they did find themselves with extraordinary abilities. We have countless films telling use that people would use their powers for good and destroy those that would use it for personal, evil gain. What Chronicle shows us is that people could also use it to play pranks, fly around and just add another element to their everyday lives, and that is a more interesting concept than you’d think.
Overall, Chronicle is an original, unique look at an idea that has been passed through Hollywood, summer blockbusters and comic books for a long while now. Its got some great performances, cool moments and a great use of the quite tired found footage formula. That same format hinders the movie towards the end but it’s still well-worth a look.
(1-3 – awful/avoid. 4-6 – average. 7-8 – good. 9-10 – fantastic.)