The best Akira ripoff yet

chronicleJosh Trank’s Chronicle is a documentary-style sci-fi movie in which the audience witnesses the drama through “recovered footage” (in the vein of Cloverfield and The Blair Witch Project), and retains the pretension of the genre, which is bolstered by the fact that the character holding the camera has the power to make the device float in the air for cinematic shots.

The story follows Andrew (Dane DeHaan), an anti-social highschooler with a dying mother and a drunk dad (Michael Kelly).  Andrew one day decides to “film everything,” including but not limited to his father’s drunken behavior, conversations with his friends, cheerleaders doing their routines (which they don’t much appreciate), and the lewd antics at local parties.  During one such party, Steve Montgomery (Michael B. Jordan), a popular young blade running for class president, discovers a mysterious hole in the middle of the woods.  Steve invites Andrew and his only friend, cousin Matt (Alex Russell) to check it out with him.  Inside, the trio touch a magical MacGuffin that makes their noses bleed, and the next bit of footage we’re allowed to see features the trio practicing telekinesis (that is, moving objects with their minds).  They decide to become stronger while keeping their new-found powers secret from everyone (which, we must suspect, will not be a success).  Highlights are placed upon Andrew’s seemingly natural aptitude for his powers, while the Plato-quoting, zenlike, borderline hipster Matt struggles with his.  This would be an overt setup for a fight scene if there weren’t so many other plot threads to bite into.

The first thing the trio do with their powers, of course, is terrorize teenage girls and small children.  The film comes off as rather sexist at the outset, employing full use of the No Girls Allowed Clause until the introduction of Casey (Ashley Hinshaw), the love interest of Matt, and even then, she’s only used as a plot device to 1) score more convenient shots because she also carries a camera around, and 2) give Matt someone to protect.  As the story continues, Matt and Steve try to create a social life for Andrew, which backfires as his powers strengthen and the goofing around gives way to a darker narrative in which Andrew, through a series of tell-too-much-and-don’t-show-enough confessionals, decides that he is an “apex predator.”

The difference between Andrew and Tetsuo Shima, deuteragonist of Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, who was similarly bullied and spat upon before obtaining telekinetic powers and taking revenge on the world that wronged him, is that Tetsuo eventually realized that what he was doing was wrong.  It was too late for him by that point, as his powers had gone out of control, but here, Andrew never seems to grasp such an idea.  By the end, he seems to have become rage incarnate, rather than the human character we started with.

The film is effective in what it sets out to do: deliver a moral-heavy story involving battles between teenagers who can fly.  Trank accomplishes this while painting a fairly realistic picture of teenage boys.  However, I grow increasingly wary of films that rely on stylistic delivery – take away the “recovered footage” angle, and what are we left with?  One of the most derivative and morally obvious stories since Harry Potter, that’s for sure.  Additionally, the spliced-together film technique sometimes comes off as an excuse for shoddy editing as opposed to a dramatic choice.  Luckily, the film is well-acted, and the decision to use mostly unknown actors is a good one.

All things considered, Chronicle is solid entertainment.  If you’re not bothered by the occasional sexism, formulaic storytelling, corny CG, and an ending with more holes in it than a showerhead, then settle in and let the telekinetically-charged sparks fly.

P.S. Can this be the official replacement for the Akira live-action movie?  I beg you to leave well enough alone.

Chronicle (2012); written by Max Landis; directed by Josh Trank; starring Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan, Alex Russell, and Ashley Hinshaw.

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