Chronicle review

With great power comes great arsing about

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As a high-schooler tests his fresh superpowers on an unfortunate arachnid, is Josh Trank’s $15m feature debut issuing a sly challenge to 2012’s squillion-dollar spandex crew? Spidey and co better look sharp if so, because this found-footage flyweight matches advance heat with the clout to satisfy and subvert genre expectation.

Co-opted from horror for sci-fi usage, the first-person format is energised to max emotion, immersion, invention and action. But a clever shift of genre focus adds what a superhero-stuffed market needs: the element of surprise.

Humour and the human touch of characterisation cut through origin-tale cliché to start, as three dudes at a rave explore a freaky underground hole that grants them telekinetic powers. Steve (Michael B Jordan) is a sporty politico, Matt (Alex Russell) a brainy but emotionally stunted hunk. Matt’s cousin Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is our eyes, an outsider whose grim home set-up – sick mom, dipso dad, no money - has alienated him from life.

Andrew’s disconnection drives his habit of viewing life through a camera, a point fully explored and exploited in Max ‘son of John’ Landis’s script. We understand his voyeurism and why others think it’s “weird”. We’re ecstatic that his prowess transcends shaky-cam cliché.

That attention to persuasive detail continues as the trio test their powers in teen-dork style: heroism’s on hold while they goof about, blowing gusts up girls’ skirts and – hilariously - instilling fear of teddies in one moppet.

But Chronicle is no Superman -meets- Jackass spoof: it honours comic-book conventions by proving their adaptability to new contexts. Natural but vivid performances (from True Blood ’s DiCaprio-ish DeHaan, notably), class rage and darkening philosophical notions plumb depths and reel us in.

Neither is it too lofty to excite. Some cheats with the first-person format occur: why Matt’s ex-girlfriend films her doorway is anyone’s guess. Yet they’re forgiven for the immediacy of the first flight scene and the thrillingly realised climax, a Carrie White-meets-Clark Kent cataclysm of money shots quick-cut from various recording devices (CCTV, iPhones) with no dilution of emotional focus.

The crux of that focus is Andrew, around whom the origin-tale plot parts coalesce. Yet this “nerd with a camera” is a more complex, contemporary cove than Peter Parker. Stewed in a very now fixation on self-documentation, his great power comes with great concern for him and his mates.

The summer’s incoming super-dudes should be feeling equally anxious: this bolt from the low-budget blue is going to take some beating.

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Freelance writer

Kevin Harley is a freelance journalist with bylines at Total Film, Radio Times, The List, and others, specializing in film and music coverage. He can most commonly be found writing movie reviews and previews at GamesRadar+.