Teenagers acquire superpowers and, being teenagers, videotape themselves as they learn what they can do in Chronicle, an entertaining comic-book movie without the comic book.
Featuring effects that put the two most recent Spider-Man movies to shame, engaging, believable characters and a kind of real-teens/real-problems melodramatic screenplay, this makes an entertaining exercise of that child's game, "What would you do if you had superpowers?"
Virginal, nerdy, downtrodden Andrew (Dane DeHaan) will address every tormentor and every torment once he has wandered down that crater and touched the magic, pulsating crystals. His cerebral, Jung- and Schopenhauer-quoting cousin Matt (Alex Russell) will get to test what he has read about humans as "beings of pure will." And the popular kid, Steve (Michael B. Jordan), will find something to do with his new skills in telekinesis.
The clever conceit here is that each boy's emotional issues or personality informs how he handles seemingly unlimited power. They goof around, finding who can take a smack from a baseball and who can master flying first. But when teens act impulsively, some handle the ugly consequences better than others.
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Matt wants them to follow some rules: "No using it on living things, ... you can't use it when you're angry." He'd also like to impress a lovely video blogger (Ashley Hinshaw).
Gregarious Steve helps Andrew come out of his shell and become popular by concocting a cute magic act with him.
And Andrew is so bent, so torn up by his dying mom, his alcoholic dad and the bitter hand he's been dealt that he can't come up with a way to help his mother with this new power.
The young actors are charismatic, sympathetic and charming. The flying effects are first-rate. This film shows us — convincingly — human beings frolicking in the clouds. The video gimmick has been done to death, and on a couple of occasions, how we get the footage we're watching falls outside of the movie's own logic loop.
But the script, by director Josh Trank and Max Landis, sets us up for obvious payoffs and then trips us up. It follows a predictable path, then detours.
That makes Chronicle a semi-serious sci-fi romp, lighter and more fun than many of the comic-book movies that it steals from, a superhero movie in which nobody ever crusades or wears a cape.