The “found footage” metaphor is a handy conceit for an entertainment industry that’s rarely held accountable for all manner of groundlessnesses. In this film, the subjective camera perspective makes admirable sense right up to the last act. An abused kid intends to document (and maybe even pre-empt) assaults on his person by his violent father and several contemptuous peers by means of the video-camcorder he acquires (somehow).
What might have been a moderately-interesting treatise on the power of inexpensive video to provide public evidence of privately covert abusive behavior becomes a different film when the three central characters, fast friends, encounter an anomalous and enigmatic piece of flobotnam that transforms this potentially-controversial Constitutional rights video chronicle into a salable superhero origins movie.
Power conferred by the enigmatic anomaly goes directly to the head of the largely-sympathetic camera operator, one of three suddenly-telekinetic prodigies, who becomes the film’s sole antagonist. It’s the fat middle of the film that permits deliciously-interesting relationships to develop (in lieu of tedious exposition about pseudo-scientific stuff that doesn’t particularly matter). That fat middle opens a fascinating window on the rapidly-developing drama, humor and pathos that bind and divide the central characters, with the aid of a ubiquitous video camera.
The telekinetic conceit greatly reduces the shaky handheld-camera distraction common to similar films. It’s also the engaging fat middle of this film that distracts the viewer from the violation of the “found footage” metaphor, when nobody bothers running the video camera during the pyrotechnic climaxes in the last act of the film. (When we viewers care about the people portrayed, we don’t care at all about the fabricated metaphors.)
Chronicle is a chameleon in that it seemed to be one kind of film until it clearly wasn’t quite what it seemed, at any given point in its running time. The only thing it continued to be was surprisingly fascinating, despite my expectations.
The most surprising thing about this film is something I realized in retrospect. It’s that the number and variety of sophisticated storytelling devices only became evident to me on the third and fourth passes through the film, which opens and closes on a dovetailed narrative as the familiar voice of Tony Stark confidentially discloses to his psychotherapist the subtle indications of ruinous choices he’s made in spite of Iron Man’s mortality, a surrender to the heroic self-sacrifice he made very near the end of The Avengers movie.
Iron Man’s recovery from those traumatic events flow beautifully in feints, gambits and callbacks throughout Iron Man III in the form of Stark’s panic attacks and moments of impetuous bravado.
While it moves with all of the visual and explosive alacrity expected of a BigDumbMovie, there’s far more there there than qualifies for stupid — in rivers of throwaway lines that excede the rib-tickling hilarity of referring to Ben Kingsley’s character as Laurence Oblivier.
Paltrow, at long last, has far more to do with the surprisingly-relevant guts of this series than teeter in very-tall shoes, as does Cheedle in deftly and respectably managing the War Admiral role like a heavyweight actor in a costume designed for lightweights. And there’s yet another child prodigy (whose best shit gets borrowed like studios pre-appropriate brainchilds). The careful management of purposefully-disinformed public perception versus uncompromising reality/fatality.
The dovetailing narrative bookends a frisky detective tale packed with overlapping revelations injected in realtime (and retrospect) by all participants in the storyline, especially audience, and the worst psychotherapeutic confidant Tony might pick is revealed at the end of credits in stride with a pair of evolving characters. I think the unqualified success of Marvel Studios, Pixar films, and the Freed Unit was/is predicated, just like the entire American Experiment, on the wide public perception of principles of, by, for and about People rather than money, machines, Gods, toys, fish, rats or principles.
Contrary to expectation, I think all of this stuff is in very good hands.