My oldest son, P.J., turns 8 in a few weeks. The other day, he caught me off guard by doing something for the first time in his young life.
He asked me about a movie I knew very little about.
Because of this gig, my sons are ridiculously overexposed to movies. Film has become an integral part of their day-to-day existence. They started going to the movies at a young age. They have access to far too many DVDs. And I’ve seen that influence bleed into their interactions, whether it be in the stories they tell as part of their school work or the games they play when hanging out with friends. Movies have surrounded them since day one, and that world has become second nature.
Yet the other day, after seeing a commercial, P.J. asked if he could go see Josh Trank’s Chronicle
… and I couldn’t say yes or no. The low-budget superhero origin story was flying under the marketing radar (at least when compared to similar superhero movies). I hadn’t seen a screening, didn’t get to do interviews … I was in the dark.
Which means I felt how most parents feel when their kids ask them if they can go see a questionable movie. And at that moment, the importance of the When Can I Watch column hit home. You guys reading this column right now probably have legitimate jobs. Lawyers. Teachers. Accountants. That’s awesome. You’re not immersed in this on a day-to-day, hour-by-hour basis. So when your kids ask if they can see something, you often have to go in blind, hoping something offensive doesn’t happen on screen. I genuinely hope that the When Can I Watch column helps erase some of that doubt and answer some of the questions you and your kids might have about films you haven’t shared yet.
Films like Chronicle, which absolutely should be shared with your kids, providing they are old enough to understand what’s going on. So, let’s venture down a perfectly formed rabbit hole, touch the light-blue alien technology, video-tape our exploits and figure out when you can watch Chronicle with your kids.
Green Lights: With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
Chronicle isn’t original. It uses the found-footage genre employed by Cloverfield, Blair Witch and countless other lower-budget genre flicks to tell a story that’s familiar to comic book lovers of every age. Whether you grew up reading Spider-Man, Superman or the Uncanny X-Men books, you’ll recognize story threads in Max Landis’ story and Trank’s script.
Andrew (Dane DeHaan), our protagonist, is a teenaged, emo outcast, the quiet and shy kid who’s ostracized and bullied at school. Dragged to a party by his supportive cousin, Matt (Alex Russell), he finds himself stumbling down a hole in the woods that contains a buried piece of alien equipment. Once exposed to the extraterrestrial technology, Matt, Andrew and the confidently charismatic Steve (Michael B. Jordan) find themselves blessed with superhuman powers.
OK, so it’s space junk instead of a radioactive spider bite, but it’s close enough to Spider-Man’s origin story that Stan Lee might want to put a call in to his lawyers. But the beauty of Trank’s method is the organic way he allows the pressure of this newfound power to overtake the boys.
The quote above, which comes from the pages of Lee’s Spider-Man comics, is reiterated by Chronicle. It’s a lesson Peter Parker holds close to his heart, and one that parents can share with their kids as Andrew – intoxicated by his abilities – begins to use them for the wrong reasons.
Like a teenage Charles Xavier, Andrew masters telekinesis, moving objects with a mere thought and controlling those around him. “I think it’s time we took this out of the backyard,” he suggests to Matt and Steve, who are content to keep their powers hidden. And later, when Andrew first abuses their abilities by hurting a redneck who’s tailgating them, it’s Matt who demands that the trio needs rules.
Chronicle really mirrors Matthew Vaughn’s X-Men: First Class, only on a smaller scale and with a third of the budget. As the boys mature into their roles -- some on the side of good, and others on the side of evil – he taps into the excitement of newfound ability, and comments on the hubris that follows an inflated ego.
I’m poking fun at Trank’s budget (or lack thereof), but I’m honestly impressed by what he and Landis are able to accomplish with what little money they must have had. Toward the middle of the film, as the boys realize they have the ability to fly, Chronicle follows them into the heavens for extended journeys that rival what Bryan Singer offered in his Superman Returns. There’s a sequence late in the film involving an automobile and the Seattle Space Needle that’s brilliant in design but limited in execution. It’s a great, great idea, and I’d pay good money to see it done better, with a bigger budget.
But the human themes are what set Chronicle apart. Matt really does love his dysfunctional cousin, and is genuinely hurt when Andrew even thinks about using his powers for the wrong reasons. Andrew has some support at home, and it breaks your heart when his mother says to him, “You’re stronger than this. Can you say that for me?”
Unfortunately, the darker side of Chronicle might give some parents pause, and it’s there that we’ll dig into the film’s assorted Red Flags.
Red Flags: “We need rules. Right?”
Unlike Magneto, Andrew doesn’t have to endure the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp, but he does shoulder the bullying and teasing that come with being a high school loner. We touched on social abuse when we talked about Mean Girls
in the column, and Chronicle
gives parents another example to discuss how difficult it can be to get by as a high schooler.
Unfortunately for Andrew, things aren’t much better at home. His father (Michael Kelly) is a raging, abusive alcoholic. His mother (Bo Petersen) is losing a battle with an illness – likely cancer, though I don’t think it was identified. These factors play into Trank’s “Birth of a Villain” storyline, but they might be a little too intense for young audience members.
As Andrew copes with these hardships, and as the boys come to grips with their talents, there are a handful of curse words sprinkled throughout the Chronicle screenplay. Nothing Earth-shattering, but parents should be prepared.
And in the film’s third act, things do take a sadistic turn. It happens organically, but the action and violence escalates in the last half hour of Chronicle … starting when Andrew is embarrassed during a failed hook up with a pretty classmate. Nothing is shown, and everyone stays clothed, but when sex isn’t consummated, Andrew tumbles over the brink into Evil Andrew, and Chronicle races to its inevitable conclusion.
This isn’t Gus Van Sant’s Elephant, or the arrow-slinging end of We Need To Talk About Kevin. It’s nowhere near as brutal or masochistic as Kick-Ass, a movie that hovers in the same neighborhood as Chronicle. Considering how dark it could have gotten, Chronicle stays relatively tame. But I still feel that the appropriate age for the movie is …
Probably between 12 or 13.
Kids that age will better identify with Andrew’s social obstacles, with the hardships some teenagers face at , and with the desire for retaliation we often wrestle when countless people do us wrong.
On the flip side, the Matt character offers a decent role model if and when you share Chronicle with your kids. Like so many comic book characters who have hero status foisted on them, Matt resists, denies his responsibility, fights out of love, and ultimately wears his regrets like a coat of armor.
Chronicle avoids a gimmicky open ending, which is fine. But if Trank felt the need to continue this story (and if the movie makes money, you bet he will), I’m sure he could find plenty of avenues to explore in the interesting framework he has established.
If you’d like to read previous entries in the "When Can I Watch That With My Kids?" series, click right here. Some of the films covered: Star Wars, Back to the Future, The Goonies, Hugo, The Princess Bride, The Monster Squad and Elf, to name just a few.