07 Dec 2012 10:42 am

Why Chronicle is Not A Superhero Movie - And Why It Matters

The big casting news of the week is that Dane DeHaan of "Chronicle" has been cast as Peter Parker's frenemy Harry Osborn in the upcoming "Amazing Spider-Man 2". Of course, most people know DeHaan as "the villain" from "Chronicle", which is where this rant begins. What make seem like a nitpicking distinction just might be a tipping point in the comic book movies. (SPOILERS for anyone who has yet to see "Chronicle".)

While DeHaan does indeed become a supervillian (albeit in loose terms) in the finale of "Chronicle", he's not really the villain of the piece. If anyone gets the distinction of villain, it's certainly Andrew's alcoholic father, who lashes at Andrew every chance he gets, sending the emotionally-volatile youth over the edge in the film's car-flinging finale. The whole reason Andrew is filming so much in the first place is an emotionally-detached defense mechanism against his violent father.

If Andrew isn't the villain of the piece, he's certainly the "hero", or in more specific terms, the protagonist. His filming literally provides the lens by which we see the events unfold throughout ninety-nine percent of the movie. The action revolves around him (literally at times) and he's one of the only characters who emotionally develops (at least until his breaking point). This doesn't make Andrew any less of a "supervillain" in the climax, it does make him the most central character of the film.

While all of this might sound like a fanboy nitpick (and too be fair, it is), it represents a very crucial turning point in comic book movies. Max Landis maintains "Chronicle" is not a "superhero movie" and I think he's right to do so. While the movie could be the origins of a superhero (depending on what happens to Matt in "Chronicle 2"), the narrative doesn't really meet the tropes or expectations of a "superhero movie". For the most part, the plot eschews "Hero's Journey' we see in most superhero films. It's not even about the hero learning to use his powers - it's about three teens joyriding with them until tragic consequences take hold. Nor is it a "deconstruction" of superheroes, as James Gunn suggests, because deconstructions are really just mirror images of said expectation, turned 180 degrees on their ears. "Chronicle" is a completely different animal.

Here's why it matters: as I've said before, one day Hollywood is going to get tired of superheroes (granted, we might be on Avengers: Phase 6 before it happens). Regardless, eventually they're going to put superheroes back on the shelf for a while. When that happens, do we still get comic book-style movies like "Chronicle"? I think so, because "Chronicle" shows that these ideas are in fact bigger than superheroes, bigger than comic books. While "Chronicle" feature elements and attributes of a superhero film, it manages to be ultimately somewhat independent of the genre. "Chronicle" might be the one of the first in a long line of comic book-style movies which stand on its own long after dusk has fallen on the superhero film as we know it.

(That's it for this rant. Check out a new Blue Yonder Wednesday.)

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