Written by O'Brian Gunn
Many of us have wondered what it would be like to have superpowers, but Uncle Ben would probably agree that it’s unfortunate that power and responsibility aren’t always a package deal. In 2012, director Josh Trank and screenwriter Max Landis gave audiences a lot to think about when they debuted Chronicle, the documentary-style film about three high schoolers - Andrew, Matt, and Steve - who are given the power of telekinesis when they discover an alien object (reminiscent of a crystallized Shuma-Gorath) burrowed underground.
Andrew, the main character, keeps to himself and is usually seen (when he’s not behind the camera) in black. At home, his loving mother is dying of cancer, and his verbally and physically abusive father is a disabled former firefighter who feels as powerless as his son, but deals with his circumstances in a much more toxic way. At school, Andrew is a target for bullies and often perceived as creepy and severely withdrawn. His cousin Matt is a touch more sociable and encourages Andrew to crack his way out of his shell, and Steve is a rare popular kid who doesn’t seem to mind associating and being seen with the not-so-popular kids.
What drives Chronicle’s narrative is the question of “does power shape us, or do we shape power?” Both Matt and Steve are set up as the good guys, saving a man from drowning in a car after Andrew “accidentally” hurls him off the road for tailgating and blaring his horn at them, while Andrew remains as an unknown throughout a majority of the film in regards to whether he’s a protagonist or antagonist; he has just as much potential for either.
Andrew quickly takes to his abilities, easily mastering flying, finesse, and great displays of power as he, Steve, and Matt weave between being mischievous teenagers playing pranks on random people and testing the limits of their new abilities. Andrew starts to gain more confidence, adds some color to his wardrobe, and opens up more to Steve and Matt, noting that he’d like to travel to Tibet for a slice of serenity.
Andrew also experiences both the sweetness and bitterness of putting yourself in the public spotlight, flooring his high school during a talent show in which he uses his powers masqueraded as magic tricks, and being humiliated when he drunkenly vomits on a girl as they’re hooking up. Matt is on the receiving end of a flicker of the depths of Andrew’s still-unresolved rage when he tries to capture the moment on film. This is a catalyst that reminds Andrew that despite all his power, he’s still trapped, still powerless to save his mother, still the same old Andrew.
It’s when Andrew’s mother’s condition worsens that he uses his abilities to rob neighborhood bullies and a gas station. An accident leads to an explosion at the gas station, which likely killed the owner and leaves Andrew with severe injuries. When Andrew’s father visits him in the hospital and informs him that his mother has died and starts to hit him, Andrew’s eyes snap open and he rages into full Phoenix mode for the duration of the movie before Matt, unable to calm him down, has no choice but to kill his cousin, a self-proclaimed apex predator.
This movie was a jab in the gut for me. I could easily identify with Andrew, as I’m also an introvert (I hesitate to use “loner”), was bullied for a period of time in high school, and my home life wasn’t the best, either. Andrew isn’t much different from the many school shooters who seem to crop up damn near every day, and Chronicle gives us an example of what can happen when we don’t handle our emotions in a healthy way and when we feel like we have no agency in life. While I can understand resorting to criminal actions for what you see as a noble outcome and standing up for yourself by any means you feel necessary, I also feel that Andrew had opportunities to let Matt, Steve, and his mom provide him with the support he needed to work through his anger and gain much-needed clarity. But then again, how much help do you think you need when you can fly and lift cars with your mind?
And this review wouldn’t be complete without touching on Josh Trank and Mike Landis, both of whom have sordid and controversial pasts, and both of whom seem perfect to write/direct a movie about a self-destructive adolescent who has power but often seems to lack the temperament to use it wisely. After all, creative types can’t help but imbue a bit of themselves in their creations.
Chronicle might not bring anything new to philosophical discussions about morality and power, but the documentary style offers up a deeper insight into the film’s characters. It’s deeply personal to be captured and preserved on camera, especially without filters, editing, or special effects. And much like receiving superpowers, the camera has the ability to show you facets of your true personality that simmer just underneath the surface, waiting to be revealed to yourself and the world.
Next Up: Alan Moore’s Supreme: Story of the Year, which offers an alternate take on Superman. In this self-contained story arc, Supreme explores his origins after losing his memory (in typical comic book fashion), taking readers on a journey through Little Haven and Omegapolis as Moore serves up his distinct commentary on not just superheroes, but comic books as a colorful and historic entity.