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For the last few years now, the dawn of summer movie season has been a little bittersweet for us here at Trunkworthy. As much as we marvel (pun intended) at the Barnum & Bailey spectacle of CGI musclemen bounding across the universe in order to save it, we always feel a little funny about seeing comics books— that wonderful resource from our youth that kept us marginalized and helped us cope with that marginalization— become an even more dominant part of the mainstream culture. It’s almost as if on Sundays FOX started showing basement Dungeons & Dragons sessions instead of football, or ESPN spent the Summer broadcasting the Kick the Can game us neighborhood kids played on the street corner at dusk. Yes, it’s wonderful that everyone likes something that once gave us succor and joy, but there also feels something a little invasive about having the whole world in on something that was once so personal and innermost.
Fortunately, there is a superhero movie out there that brings the genre back to its emotional, intimate launching pad. The truth is, there’s no movie at any budget that more inherently understands that vital and electric connection between adolescence and the superhero mythos than Chronicle, Josh Trank’s 2012 found-footage masterpiece.
If you happen to be one of those kids who grew up as comics shifted from its Silver Age to its darker and more thematic Bronze Age in the mid 70’s, you will find all of the elements that made those stories so powerful— chiefly, how the ability and desire to perform superhuman feats is tempered by real world issues both mundane and tragic— in sharp relief here. And if you are someone who hears that preceding sentence as nothing but gobbledygook and sees those same comics as the perfect thing to line your parakeet’s cage, you’re in luck too. At its heart, Chronicle is a well-told, deeply-felt coming-of-age story where the protagonists just so happen to soar through the air like 747s and make tailgating trucks fly off the road with a flick of the wrist.
The story is told through the eyes, literally, of bullied, virginal Seattle high schooler Andrew, played by Dane DeHaan, who went on to play a similar character in Amazing Spiderman 2’s Harry Osborn. Andrew’s natural awkwardness is only intensified when he chooses to carry a video camera everywhere he goes, documenting his abusive father, his cancer-stricken mom, and the discovery of a mysterious glowing object deep inside a quarry. Along with his cousin Matt and BMOC Steve (played by The Wire’s Michael B. Jordan, who also went on to play a similar character in Johnny ‘Human Torch’ Storm in Trank’s forthcoming Fantastic Four reboot), Andrew is imbued with otherworldly telekinetic powers that, not unlike the mysterious power of puberty, he has no idea what to do with.
These newfound abilities begin with them constructing Lego towers with their minds and build to Andrew and the boys using brainpower to zip off to Tibet and contemplate the nature of peace on earth. The whole time, the dark psychological forces that might lead a less super-powered moper to sit in his room and listen to Cure records threaten to push Andrew toward unleashing holy hell. While this may sound familiar, Chronicle renders the widespread urban destruction commonplace in superhero epics with a low-budget intensity and zeal that makes the movie feel like the FX equivalent of a blazing punk rock 7-inch.
Ever since the success of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man movies, the catchphrase “with great power comes great responsibility” has hung over the genre like an all-powerful cookie fortune. Chronicle shows a deeper truth: great power more often than not amplifies the great misery we already feel deep inside of ourselves, especially as teenagers. It’s time we started asking more of our superhero movies, and Chronicle is the perfect place to start.