There's not much depth to Chronicle. In spite of a unique take on the traditional superhero origin story, rookie director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis fizzle out by chaining themselves to a documentary-style gimmick that's both unnecessary and distracting.
Fueled by anger about his drunken dad and terminally ill mom, Andrew (Dane DeHaan) buys a video camera and starts to record every minute of his life. When he gets yanked to a high-school rave with his cousin Matt (Alex Russell), with camcorder in tow, all-around popular stud Steve (Michael B. Jordan) urges them to check out a hole in the ground he found out in the woods. The trio finds a pulsing blue crystal deep underground, gain telekinetic powers after touching it, then do what any group of teenagers would do – prank a ton of strangers.
At first, Trank's found-footage style complements that story well. Andrew admits that he films everything to put a barrier between himself and others, later using his growing powers to levitate the camera and offer a creative excuse to shoot from odd angles. The move also gives the early scenes an intimacy that makes them surprisingly fun, as the gang goofs off with their newfound skills.
But before long, Chronicle mucks itself up with unbelievable reasons to keep that found-footage lie going. (See: the bland love interest, played by Anna Wood, with a video-blogging hobby.) Why not simply ditch the format once it gets too cumbersome? Why value thematic integrity over narrative function?
With some tinkering, Chronicle could have been a cool bit of low-budget entertainment, a refreshing alternative to tired comic book adaptations. Instead, it's got too many pieces it doesn't need and too few to finish the job. Everything that works so well – the immature rapport between DeHaan, Jordan and Russell; Trank's keen eye for excitement; Andrew's spiraling descent into villainy – all of that is obscured for the sake of cinematographic consistency.
Asking what could've been, though, may be too much for a movie like Chronicle. Isn't it fair to lower the bar for a superhero movie though? We want to see feats of strength from the genre, unreal shows of inhuman talent. Trank and Landis understand and tap into that fundamental brand of excitement with ease – until Andrew breaks bad, we're just watching some teenage guys who are psyched to have super powers. There's plenty to rag on, yet nothing completely sinks the innate fun of that premise.
Sure, Chronicle may not soar, but let's not forget the fundamental rule of the superhero movie: It's always cool to see people fly.