Teenage mutant superheroes
High schoolers go berserk with special powers in the riveting lo-fi ''Chronicle''
With great power comes great responsibility. That classic maxim from the Spider-Man comics is actually the moral of most superhero epics, from Superman to The Dark Knight. Chronicle (2012, PG-13, 1 hr., 24 mins.) — a ”found footage” gem that impressively blends F/X filmmaking with low-budget cinema vérité— acknowledges that wisdom by sneering at it with cynical realism. Andrew (In Treatment‘s Dane DeHaan, heading a fine cast) is an alienated teen with a dying mom. Obsessively filming his life assuages some of his angst. One night Andrew, his cousin Matt (Australian newcomer Alex Russell), and popular jock Steve (The Wire‘s Michael B. Jordan) explore a mysterious crevasse in the woods and emerge with telekinetic powers. Thus begins their empowerment — and spiral into irresponsibility, self-delusion, and worse. Never once do the pop-savvy boys look to the example of a comic-book superhero. Great power also requires great role models. These teen titans have none.
Chronicle is clever at brainstorming suburban-jackass scenarios in which the lads can exercise their mutant muscles: spooking a girl by making a teddy bear hover in front of her, filling a woman’s shopping cart with unwanted stuff, flipping up cheerleaders’ skirts. It’s all creepy fun until Andrew hurts an irritating tailgater by whooshing him off the road. The dark turn inspires them to adopt self-limiting rules…which they quickly forget after they realize they can fly. An exhilarating football game in the sky leaves them hooked on self-aggrandizing high jinks, until Andrew goes totally unhinged after a pileup of humiliations, tragedies, and clashes with his abusive father.
Director Josh Trank and co-writer Max Landis occasionally strain to sustain the found-footage premise, especially during the climactic skyscraper-smashing brawl. And yet Andrew’s need to be filmed — to be recognized by the world, to have a God’s-eye camera perspective on his actions — is always fascinating. Chronicle is a smart, stripped-down X-Men for a ”Pumped Up Kicks” culture. Alas, the paltry EXTRAS offer nothing but clips of technical tests. (The Blu-ray edition, unavailable for review but now in stores, includes a director’s cut.) A movie this subversively super deserves more. A-