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Sunday, February 19, 2012


Coming soon hopefully are roundups of the last month's worth of films that I haven't mentioned yet and a look at the upcoming Oscars. For now though, here's a pretty interesting superhero film that, much to my utter obliviousness at the time of writing, was directed by a South African director and largely shot in Cape Town. Who knew?

Also at Channel24 

What it's about

After discovering a mysterious artifact, three high schoolers gain super powers but it's not long before they find their lives spiraling out of control as they try to come to terms with their new found telekinetic abilities.

What we thought

Chronicle, the latest cinematic deconstruction of the superhero may strike those who are new to the genre as a true original, but for those of us weened on comics over the last quarter century – or avid film-goers who have already sat through Kick Ass, Watchmen, The Incredibles, Defendor, Super and Mystery Men - could tell you, there is nothing new or inventive about turning the superhero on its head.

Frankly, we're getting perilously close to the point where the truly revolutionary thing to do with these quintessential American myths would be to give them back their capes and their tights; to return to them the right to wear their underpants on the outside and to allow them to once again stand as larger-than-life metaphors for the best of human idealism. And yet, for all that Chronicle is far from original in its implicitly cynical attempts to bring the superhero down to our level, it is more than smart and engaging enough to justify its own existence.

Effectively, Chronicle has, as its premise, the exact opposite of the central conceit on which Kick Ass was based: rather than wondering, as Kick Ass did, why a normal flesh-and-blood human can't be a superhero, Chronicle wonders why someone with super powers would ever bother to become a superhero in the first place. Once again, original this ain't – think Spider-man before he learns the lesson that “with great power comes great responsibility” - but the teenage “heroes” of Chronicle don't use their new-found powers to help others, they use them to pull girls, improve their popularity and play silly pranks before realising, like Peter Parker before them, that their powers could influence their lives – and the lives of others - in far more profound ways.

Chronicle's greatest strength then, lies not its originality or its premise, but in its exploration of three archetypal yet believable teenagers as it uses its paranormal trappings to shine a light on the real experience of being caught between childhood and adulthood. We have Steve (Michael B Jordan), the popular and likeable people-person who uses his powers with happy abandon, which stands in stark contrast to Matt (Alex Russell) whose level-headed sense of responsibility causes him to be more conservative with his powers, going so far as to limit how he and the other two should use them. And then there is Andrew (Dane DeHaan), our point of view character, whose toxic home-life and withdrawn, sullen personality are the perfect catalysts for his quickly evolving understanding of what “power” truly means.

As the film progresses, it does become more and more a conventional superhero/ supervillain origin story but it works specifically because it never loses sight of the three characters – all very well portrayed by novice actors – at the centre of its story. It's focus and emotional forthrightness are so impressive, in fact, that I am tempted to entirely forgive its failings and give it a higher score but its reliance on that increasingly tired and tiring storytelling device of the found-footage, faux-documentary does it no favours at all.

However much it may be nice to see this device used for something other than a horror film and however much it can be argued that there are points in the story that call for the voyeuristic nature of the hand-held, home-video camera, it's ultimately far too distracting and far too annoying to ever truly obscure the simple fact that the film would have worked far better using a far more conventional style of shooting. Its story and its characters are good enough – additional gimmicks do nothing but obscure the film's otherwise potent emotional power.

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