Bullying, narcissism and superpowers mix in ‘Chronicle’

I remember the day of the Columbine High School shooting better than I remember Sept. 11.

I remember seeing my fourth grade math teacher sobbing. I remember being told in sanitized detail about what had happened in Colorado. I remember being confused, being sad and being scared.

What happened at Columbine was a national tragedy, and it’s one that I have read about and watched far too many documentaries on. What Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold did on April 20, 1999, is something that is endlessly fascinating to me but their motivation is the real tragedy. Two thoroughly troubled, depressed, bullied and psychopathic boys were out to make a statement, and in doing so, they caused one of this nation’s darkest days.

Few filmmakers have ever mined the shooting for material, but super-hero sci-fi mashup “Chronicle” may have done justice to the tragedy in the most satisfying and intelligent way possible.

Viewers mostly follow Andrew, played by up-and-comer Dane DeHaan, a depressed loner with a cancer ridden mother and an abusive alcoholic father; his new friend, Steve, played by Michael B. Jordan of Friday Night Lights and his cousin Matt, played by an effective Alex Russel. After stumbling across a mysterious hole during a rave, we flash forward to the boys experimenting with minor telekinetic powers.

While they initially goof off with their new found abilities, Andrew lashes out at his world, crashing a car and constantly trying to improve himself and test his abilities. As he becomes more insular, focused and obsessed with his newfound superiority and chance for revenge, Matt and Steve worry about his safety as well as their own.

There’s little else that can be said about the plot without giving major twists of the film away, but comic book fans will quickly put together the links between Max Landis’ script and classics like “X-Men: The Dark Phoenix Saga” and Brian Michael Bendis’ early work on “Ultimate Spiderman.” What stands out is how fresh the writing is. Landis’s script plays with clichés, but it does so with the respect and admiration that superhero films deserve.

Not everything is perfect here though. The found-footage gimmick is overused and has to be constantly explaining who is filming what, how they are doing it and why. This feels like a movie that wasn’t designed around the genre and had it tacked on by executives. Additionally, some of the CGI is fairly terrible. Close your eyes when you see the levitating baseball.

My biggest problem, however, is with the final characterization of Andrew. Without giving much away, Landis tries to make the character into both a threat and someone we’re supposed to relate to, and doesn’t really pull off either. He’s too kind to hate but too cruel to want to care about.

Ultimately, “Chronicle” succeeds in creating a unique, engaging and often funny origin story for a new super-hero franchise. If only it could lose its trendy story-telling gimmick, it could become a startling combination of the lunatic powers of “Scanners” with the dark seriousness of “Heathers.” As it stands, it’s an engaging look into the mind of a troubled teen who is in far too deep over his head.