Monday, February 20, 2012

Great Superhero Read - Chronicle

I've been describing Chronicle to people as a found-footage superhero movie. It's "shot" by a teen boy's camcorder and has that wonderfully raw, unscripted documentary style to it. Not that it was unscripted, because it established characters and premise too efficiently for that to be true, but there was never a moment when I dropped out of the conceit and said, "Somebody wrote that line." The style complemented the story nicely and as a result, I think this may be one of the most realistic takes on superheroes I've seen yet.

Most of that realism is credited to the story and acting, of course, rather than the cinematography. Three seniors--a loner who owns the camera, his philosophy-obsessed cousin, and a politician-in-training--go into the woods outside Seattle and find a mysterious Something that gives them all telekinesis. Once they discover their powers, the teens start hanging out and training themselves, then pull a couple typically teenaged pranks on the general public. One of the pranks goes wrong, forcing the teens to give themselves rules like "no power use on living things". But the loner gets more and more upset at how unfair his life is and starts disobeying that rule, and then things get Bad. There are subplots surrounding the loner's family and the teen's social lives (sex and drinking), because hey, realism.

I got sucked into the characters' lives quickly, especially our loner protagonist's. There were genuinely moments when I cried and certainly moments when I was scared for them. If the theatre had been empty or I'd been at home, I may even have yelled at the screen. And what's even better is that I didn't really see the twists coming. I thought the film was going to be superhero story type A, then story type B, and then lkjijkadhdkh. On a rewatch I'd catch a lot more of the hints and stuff, I'm sure, but I was so involved in the story the first time round that I only had a minute or so warning, maybe.

This isn't entirely a black and white, good and evil sort of superhero story either, though there are definitely moments of that. It's hard for me, even a couple days later, to look at any given negative event in the film and say, "that was a bad thing, he's completely in the wrong there", because the characters are all so perfectly teenaged. Can I really say I'd have acted differently in that situation? Can I say that any of the characters is evil, since there are mitigating circumstances at every turn? I can't even look at the most heroic moment and think only good thoughts about it.

Which is not to say that this is a completely dark film. There's hope and humor too. I laughed as often as I cried. I also went into the theatre expecting a slightly shallow story that moved from A to B to C without much underpinning, and got a surprisingly deeper, nuanced story. So yes, one of the best superhero films I've seen, definitely the most realistic, and certainly one I'll recommend to people and keep thinking about.

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