I'm just collecting my thoughts after just having come back from seeing it. And I need to leave this here before my thoughts race away. *EDIT: Holy shit this is long, I'm sorry, but I knew this would happen because I predicted it in Alex's review thread.
I only saw this because some people compared the last bit to Akira. That's all the hype I needed! :P
I wish this film was so much better. So much missed potential.
What happens in the finale is pretty spectacular. As is typical of superhero origin movies, the most fun is the heroes experimenting, getting that newfound smell for power. Here, they fly and it's easily the coolest scene.
The acting is better than I expected.
Then the problems start appearing. Motivations don't make sense, the script does weird things, we're constantly being reminded that this is "found footage", and it feels like the directors/writers have never read many comics or seen comic book films. This is a post-modern superhero movie laughing at the medium and lacks any heart.
THE POWERS: First, all 3 characters have the same power. Ok fine you don't want the tropes of powers complementing the characters, yin and yang. Andrew tries to be the "apex predator", so it makes sense at the end he'd end up the most powerful, he's got that fine point control. But have we forgotten that Steve was working a lot on it, too? So why have him suddenly die and confuse us to Andrew's limits if he can grab lightning bolts from a storm and be able to shoot them at Steve? Why not build up the popular kid vs bullied emo? Especially because we start liking Steve a lot more for being the high-school electoral president who's willing to be friends with the cousins. But nope I felt nothing when Steve got zapped, it was a shock but not an emotional one.
CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT: So since they're not going with the aliens as conflict, you expect them to develop the characters and create arcs enough for us to see whether their relationships end up in drama. But there's no rivalry developed between any of the characters. The only conflict is Andrew vs his dad. Wouldn't it have been cooler if when he watched what was on the camcorder, went to the site (and not have it plugged), got powers himself, and then the final sequence was Andrew vs his dad? Like Eric Bana vs Nick Nolte in Hulk, but done even better. Matt, his cousin, comes to break it up, and really the message is about family and how dangerous it is to take the little problems onto a superhero scale? Greek level mythology?
Andrew's motivations to hurt Matt, his cousin, seem overblown. His mother died, he's had a swift rise of popularity and a very adolescent fall, his father should be the villain, but he picks on Matt as a rival? Matt reveals he likes Andrew now, and feels good for his future. There is no hint that they used to hate each other, they just never talked much. So instead of the contrived conflict at the end, why not have this be a supervillain origin story, and have Andrew go on the rampage? I gave no shit when buses are thrown at Matt and whenever they're duking it out. It's an empty spectacle, much like Transformers 3 or Sucker Punch. Andrew's acts of violence are one-sided, there's no moral dilemma for him. His actions aren't challenged, he has no inner conflict. So go full out Akira without the rivalry, instead of highlighting why their interpretation of Akira fails because they haven't built up their "Tetsuo" and "Kaneda" to the point where we give a shit who lives and dies in this friendship tragedy. A one-sided supervillain nihilist story would be far more memorable. No forced conflicts or antagonists, just him going apeshit against the world.
"FOUND FOOTAGE": Just to get on the technical side of the film. I was waiting for a justification for the gimmick throughout but it never came. They create the abusive dad sub-plot just so they can have the main character can carry a camera around everywhere. Every single scene references the camera to the point of tedium. If you want the "visceral" angle, you can still go shaky cam, Paul Greengrass style. The whole film creates so many contrivances to have it be found footage. They create a superfluous blogger girl just to get a second camera take. They have Andrew use telekinesis just so the camera's not shaky and more professional looking like an actual film. Then they break all the rules by having impossible camera angles at the end, such as the cop uncharacteristically focusing his camera on the duo's faces and their body language. It completely took me out of the experience, it stopped me from emotionally connecting to the characters when the filmmaking is so obnoxious. There's no way to suspend your disbelief so every little thing sticks out. It added nothing, and I've heard the criticism across nearly every review.
MAX LANDIS: Max Landis released a video on The Death and Return of Spidermanrecently, in a viral manner to get people to check out his new movie. Go watch it if you like Drunk History. Clearly he's aware of comic books and the impact they've left, and like any fan is willing to make a parody about it to show perspective. But after watching Chronicle, it's almost like he's shitting all over the medium and Akira for not understanding why they're important. It's really weird how comic books aren't referenced AT ALL throughout the film. No dialogue or pictures describe this world of being aware of the medium. This is probably a good defense against the criticism at why the characters don't expect to do much more with their powers other than throw shit and fly around. The world in the film is not self-aware like Kick Ass or Super.
I thought it was a post-modern way to distance themselves from the medium so they could lampshade the smaller budget for not including crazy ass stuff the characters could be doing with their powers, and to maybe avoid the indulgent fan winking. But nope, the ending is clearly much bigger-budgeted on a much bigger scale, so that doesn't explain the lack of references to the medium. Maybe it really is a way for the filmmakers to laugh at the medium from a comfortable distance.
The reason why we give a shit for heroes vs villains conflicts in comics is, we're given backstory to each side and can empathise with some of their actions. This is especially true for Batman's Rogues Gallery who all have psychologically linked tragedies as origins. If Max Landis and John Trank had read enough comics, they'd know how to build conflicts, like the one at the end between Matt and Andrew. When Matt skewers Andrew with the statue spear, did you feel anything?
I mean, that's the whole reason why the ending with Mr Glass in Unbreakable is so heart-breaking and tragic. That's why we care when Batman's morals and beliefs are put to the test throughout The Dark Knight and how he'll have to break his one rule.
You either develop the rivalry, or you go the other way with a nihilistic take like No Country for Old Men.
THE END: I came away from this movie feeling nothing. I didn't care for the what the characters did. There was no message. There's no resolution. Matt looks like he's making a posthumous video letter for Andrew, but the sentiment rings hollow. The more I think about the film, the more I'll begin to hate it. I have to keep on reminding myself, the acting was pretty good, there were cool moments just like any superhero origin movie, but they're all just let down by a confused script and direction. Let's just say, I'm not exactly anticipating a future Max Landis joint.