Watching high-school students soar around the Seattle Space Needle isn’t what it used to be. A decade ago, a certain measure of awe came hand-in-hand with walking into a movie theater to see two teenagers throw cars at each other. Now, it just seems like clever CGI trickery. Let’s face it — the yearly rigmarole of big-name studios bombarding the box office with at least a handful of superhero flicks has had a tiring effect.

Chronicle

At Quality 16 and Rave
20th Century Fox


Sadly, the increasing number of caped vigilantes no longer feels as badass as the comic book characters we grew up reading about. Even origin stories, the revelatory tales that give us a glimpse into how particular heroes developed their abilities, have started to seem jaded, weighed down by repeated script gimmicks and an overwhelming air of unoriginality. But somehow, “Chronicle,” director Josh Trank’s feature debut, finds a way to defy the norm.

Unlike many of the tastelessly boring superhero adaptations released this past year (our glowering eyes are trained squarely on you, “Green Lantern”), “Chronicle” is entertaining and meaningful. Perhaps it’s the found-footage format, never before used in a superhero movie, that breathes life into the film. Or maybe it’s the exceptional performances by the young, talented leads. In any event, it works exceptionally well.

Dane DeHaan (TV’s “In Treatment”) plays Andrew, a troubled high-school geek who struggles with an abusive father and a terminally ill mother. While at a party with his cousin Matt (Alex Russell, “Almost Kings”), Andrew befriends high-school jock Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan, TV’s “The Wire”), and the three teenagers discover an otherworldly object that grants them highly concentrated telekinetic abilities.

Andrew is pushed to the limits by his circumstances, and it’s easy to realize why all that pent up hostility will eventually come pouring out. In a certain sense, this dynamic adds a much needed base of reality to the movie, but in the long run, it also ends up being a discernible flaw.

The first 45 minutes of the film are spent exploring the fun side of having superpowers: pranking little kids at the supermarket, flying around the Seattle Space Needle and rigging the high-school talent show. It’s a fun little diversion that puts the audience at ease and seems much more realistic than three high schoolers randomly deciding to fight crime with their newly acquired abilities.

Nevertheless, the movie picks up speed quickly, as Andrew finds it increasingly difficult to control his ever-expanding power. And despite the excellently constructed car-toss scenes and the well-composed script, this is where the movie stumbles. Technically, everything goes according to Trank’s plan, but at the end of the day, it all just seems too rushed. The audience is given rational context for how Andrew finally loses control, but we’re never given a believable reason as to why. Fortunately, this slight misstep isn’t enough to make this a bad movie.

“Chronicle” will always be remembered as a surprisingly well-made film. It’s just that it tried to hit a little harder than it needed to.

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