Teen Titans

I had an interesting discussion with a friend last night about the scope of a movie's budget versus how successfully it achieves what it's trying to accomplish. Any film fan knows that throwing wads of cash at a movie doesn't automatically make it better, and in many cases, actually tends to make it worse. The reason we were talking about it is because we had just sat and watched Chronicle, a movie that cost a meager $15 million, but whose plot could easily be misconstrued as something you'd see in the most bloated of summer Hollywood blockbusters.

The story can be pretty easily summed up: A trio of high school guys (the popular guy, the pretentious philosopher, and his socially maladjusted cousin) discover a cave and some sort of artifact within that gives them telekinesis. As their powers develop, their relationship to the world and each other naturally takes drastic turns. At the center is Andrew, the socially maladjusted character who has a miserable home life, due to a dying mother and an abusive father.

So many things could have gone wrong for this movie. The marketing for it was terrible. When I saw the commercials, I thought to myself "Ugh. Teenaged douchebags with superpowers. Pass." It's a found-footage movie, so the characters are always filming themselves. That made me suspicious that it would have a lot of shaky-cam scenes, which I despise. Although I enjoy superpower movies, they've become well-worn territory, and it's becoming more difficult to say anything new or interesting about the subject. I pretty much dismissed this when it was released, and it's only after I kept encountering positive reviews and enthusiastic word-of-mouth that I realized I needed to give this movie a shot.

I'm glad I did, because it's a very good film. It's only an hour and a half long, but doesn't waste any of that time. The best thing about it is its tone; in most superhero stories, the person with newfound powers immediately sets their mind to fighting crime or wreaking havoc. In this movie, the characters are much more realistic, to chilling effect. If teenaged boys really acquired telekinesis, they'd screw around, which is what happens here. They send a grocery cart careening down the aisle. They move a lady's car around the parking lot so she can't figure out where she's parked. And of course, they blow classmates' skirts up. Naturally, the stakes soon change. Repressed anger blows up in violent ways. People get hurt. Excitement over having superpowers is twisted into entitlement. And again, all of this is completely believable from a character perspective.

In a way, Chronicle starts off like any wish-fulfillment story. But unlike most stories in that vein, getting one's wish in this universe brings more pain than happiness. The people who gain power are the ones you'd least trust with that responsibility, and they certainly live down to expectations. That sounds dour and depressing, but it makes for a fascinating story. If The Avengers is the smartest way to make a big budget superpower story, this is the smartest way to make a small budget one.

Chronicle: B+


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