Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Chronicle or, Don't Fly At Me, Bro.

At this point, I'm so sick of superhero movies, I don't even want to see The Avengers.  In about ten years, we've had four X-men films, three Spiderman films, three Batmans films, two Fantastic Four films, two Iron Man films, Thor, Green Lantern, Captain America, three different actors playing the Incredible Hulk...  Chris Evans has even played two different superheroes.  It's gotten out of control.  Of course, not all these films are bad, but I'm burnt out.  Let's move on to something new.

Likewise, apart from Rec, found footage films are welcome to follow the repetitive superhero formula into hell.  After The Blair Witch Project, Hollywood suddenly decided to stop hiring writers and just give their actors camcorders.  The results are mixed, but a gimmick is a gimmick.

And now we arrive at Chronicle, the found footage superhero movie.  I use "superhero" in the loosest sense; but superpowers are involved, so we'll count it.  It is entertaining, which is more than I'll say for half the movies previously mentioned, but the justification for a diagetic camera grows weaker and weaker with every scene.

The film centers around Andrew, a dorkier version of the guy in American Beauty who liked to film bags and dead birds.  Luckily for the film studio, Andrew has decided to videotape his entire life, a notion supposedly born from a friendless life with an abusive father and dying mother.  His cousin, Matt, drags Andrew to a party, where the two of them, along with the most popular guy in school, climb into an ominous hole and gain the power to move things with their minds.  That's what ominous holes will do to you, kids.

So, now that Andrew is one of the three people in the world with the power of telekinesis, he decides to give up his goal of being the weird kid with the camera, right?  Nah, bro.  That camera lens is a buffer between him and the harshness of the world, man.  So, he continues to carry the camera around school like a weirdo and the film continues, only now we're treated to long periods of Andrew discovering his inner cinematographer by flying the camera around different rooms.  Andrew's obsession with documentary doesn't detract much from the entertainment value of the film, but if this was actually real footage, I'd venture a guess that the film would end immediately after Andrew gets superpowers.  If I could lift cars with my mind, I wouldn't carry a camera around high school.  "Oh, man.  I've got to document the torment of my life.  Wait, I've got superpowers?  Fuck that.  How much can I get for this camera at the pawn shop?"

The first half of the film works really well.  The weak bonds the trio share are made stronger by their shared experience, and Andrew suddenly finds himself with friends.  They use their powers to pull pranks on people, perform in the school talent show, and try to get laid.  This is as realistic a use of teenage telekinesis you'll get short of an R rating, which would simultaneously be more realistic and potentially disturbing (Remember, these are teenage boys we're dealing with).  

The film's weaknesses start to show in the third act.  Pretty much out of nowhere, Andrew decides he's the "Apex Predator," which, to him, means stealing stuff and killing people has been green lit.  The film tries to support his conclusion with a few weak inciting incidents, but his character makes a pretty giant leap to psycho killer way too fast.  Once this transition occurs, the film runs downhill, but it's also predominantly action so most people won't notice.  The most ridiculous moment comes when Andrew summons an army of Iphones to float around him in order to keep the camera diagetic, but he soon throws a couple of police cars in the air to make you forget it happened.

The found footage gimmick may be silly, but it doesn't stop Chronicle from being better than most things superhero related.  It's simply a lazy constraint, allowing scenes to be cut short by a broken camera, or someone turning off the camera; and it necessitates ludicrous justifications for the characters to be in view of a camera at all times.  I don't like weak justifications.  Other than that, if you like this sort of thing, go see Chronicle.


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