Josh Trank’s directorial career is in serious jeopardy since Fantastic Four has not only flopped, but has become an infamous failure, thanks in part to his ill-conceived tweet on the eve of the troubled film’s release that disavowed it as not his work. This added fuel to the fire about his professionalism and merits as a filmmaker. These developments have led many to question if he has the right temperament for the business. It’s too early to tell how this will play out, but one thing that can’t be denied is that with his first film Chronicle he displayed promising talent with a movie that mashed the superhero and found-footage genres. Here is a review.
The “found footage” sub-genre may elicit many groans and complaints from moviegoers. While Chronicle at first didn’t seem all that different from films of this type with its slightly mundane first act when it introduced stereotypical characters, it turned out to be a refreshing viewing experience. Unlike most “found footage” movies, this wasn’t a horror film, but rather about three teenage boys who developed telekinetic powers and how it affected them. Before long the film turned out to be a pleasantly surprising with its plot development and execution.
The main camera used in Chronicle is operated by one of the boys, Andrew Detmer (Dane DeHaan), a shy, emo type who picks up the hobby of videotaping his life. Andrew clearly doesn’t have a happy life in school or at home. He’s shunned and picked on by bullies, his father’s a violent alcoholic and his mother is dying of cancer. At some point, he goes to a rave party with his outgoing cousin Matt Garetty (Alex Russell), and they run into the ultra-popular Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan), who’s running for school president. The three leave the party and discover a hole in the ground near the party. After hearing strange sounds coming from it they descend into the hole to investigate. Deep down they encounter a crystalline structure of unknown origin that pulses and causes them to have nosebleeds.
The movie jumped ahead in time to where the trio are experimenting with their newly acquired telekinetic powers. They treat it as a fun diversion and bond together while carrying out pranks with their powers. But it soon becomes clear that their powers are increasing and that Andrew’s inner demons causes him to become more and more malicious with his powers.
That was the best twist with the film. We’ve all been expecting to see the lovable shy loser get super powers and then run off to save the world. Sadly, this doesn’t happen with Andrew, he’s clearly not Peter Parker, as he uses his abilities to hurt others. But, the character was so well presented and three dimensional that despite his increasingly violent actions, one can’t help but sympathize with his situation, while fearing him. Andrew thought that the powers would change his life for the better, but they haven’t. He is still unpopular, his father continues berating him and he cannot save his mother.
In the meantime, Matt and Steve defy the popular jock stereotypes and become more sympathetic. Matt soon realizes that they have to be responsible with their powers. This doesn’t mean he wants them to fight crime, only to not use the powers to harm living things. This difference in opinion will ultimately lead to a clash between the two cousins. Kudos goes to the three actors who play the three friends, the bond they share over their secret powers and the joy they have at first is apparent and one can’t help but marvel at their telekinetic displays.
Whereas something as simple as levitating a ball may seem humdrum in an X-Men film, in Chronicle it truly came off as a marvel. With that said the final act of the film was jaw-dropping thanks to its special effects that put more expensive superhero films to shame in the wow factor as a major battle takes place in the skies over Seattle.
Put aside any complaints about Fantastic Four when considering Josh Trank’s debut film. Chronicle is still a well-made production that showed promise and indicated that Josh Trank would have a memorable filmmaking career. Trank should be commended for Chronicle’s execution because the “found footage” technique added to the reality of what moviegoers saw before their eyes. Unfortunately, as terrific as Chronicle was, Trank suffered the sophomore curse big time with his disjointed Fantastic Four. It is a poorly made film that has clear evidence of studio tampering (as seen by the haphazard third act) and it’s so-called grounded and gritty take of Marvel Comics’ superheroes was misguided from the start. It proves that undertaking a big-scale production was too much for the young director. However, if given another chance to direct a smaller production like Chronicle, Trank might be able to develop his skills and find some redemption.
Lewis T. Grove