"CHRONICLE" — ★★★ — Dane DeHaan, Michael B. Jordan, Alex Russell, Michael Kelly; PG-13 (intense action and violence, thematic material, some language, sexual content and teen drinking); in general release
Teenagers acquire super powers 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 last two "Spider-Man" movies to shame, engaging, believable characters and a kind of real-teens/real-problems melodramatic screenplay, this makes an entertaining exercise in that child's game, "What would YOU do if you had super powers?"
You know that virginal, nerdy, downtrodden Andrew (Dane DeHaan) is going to address every tormentor and every torment (the sex thing) once he's wandered down that crater and touched the magic, pulsating crystals. His cerebral, Jung-and-Schopenhauer-quoting cousin, Matt (Alex Russell), will get to test out what he's read about humans as "beings of pure will." And Steve (Michael B. Jordan), the popular kid, will find something to do with his new skills in telekinesis.
The clever conceit here is that each boy already has the emotional issues or personality that will inform how he handles great, seemingly unlimited power. They can goof around, figuring out who can take a smack from a baseball and who can master flying first. But when teenagers do what teenagers do — act impulsively — some will handle the ugly consequences better than others.
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), if only he could show her his little secret.
The gregarious Steve helps Andrew come out of his shell and join the ranks of the popular by concocting a cute magic act with him.
And Andrew is so bent, so twisted up by his dying mom, his alcoholic dad and the bitter hand that life has dealt him, that he can't come up with a way to try and help his mother with this new omnipotence.
The young actors are charismatic, sympathetic and charming. The flying effects are first-rate, a marvelous next-generation version of something we've seen done reasonably well since "Superman." This film strips that "Spider-Man" animation away and shows us human beings frolicking in the clouds — convincingly. 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. The gimmick never lets you forget that this is "Cloverfield" meets "Fantastic Four."
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But the script — by director Josh Trank and Max Landis — sets us up for obvious payoffs, and then trips us up. Even when it follows a predictable path, it takes 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.
"Chronicle" is rated PG-13 for intense action and violence, thematic material, some language, sexual content and teen drinking; running time: 83 minutes.