Applying the found-footage format to a superhero origin story, Chronicle aims to reinvigorate a familiar genre, but ends up draining almost all the excitement and wonder from it instead. The movie takes 80 minutes to explore what would take up a handful of pages in a superhero comic book, making the fantastic into something drab and mundane. Superhero deconstructionism is nothing new, and it can be exciting and original when approached with a unique perspective. But Chronicle is just a longer version of the early scene in the first season of Heroes that featured indestructible cheerleader Claire videotaping her death-defying abilities.
Here the superpowered teenagers are three high-school guys who encounter a mysterious glowing artifact in an underground tunnel and soon find themselves able to move objects with their minds (which also allows them to fly). Troubled loner Andrew (Dane DeHaan), whose ever-present camera documents most of the story, embraces his new powers with the most enthusiasm, but his volatile emotions threaten to overwhelm his self-control. Andrew’s cousin Matt (Alex Russell) and Matt’s charismatic friend Steve (Michael B. Jordan) are more measured in the use of their powers, but all three escalate from cautious experiments to more elaborate pranks and stunts.
The progression of the story is familiar from plenty of comic books, especially once it becomes clear that Andrew isn’t exactly going to become a hero (which is apparent pretty early on). The found-footage gimmick proves limiting, especially during the big action climax, when it’s essentially untenable. Director Josh Trank and writer Max Landis (son of John Landis) don’t have anything new to say about either superpowers or teenagers, and DeHaan is whiny and ineffectual both as a teen outcast and as a superpowered menace. The recent glut of superhero movies definitely calls out for new approaches and new ideas, but Chronicle just combines the least exciting elements of two played-out genres.