A just released film getting strong critical acclaim, Chronicle, is a science-fiction tale distributed by 20th Century Fox.
From trailers, one might get the impression it’s a variant of the hilarious 2010 film “Kick-Ass,” where a gawky teen tries to make his dreams of being a super-hero come true. While there are some similarities, there are more differences. For all it’s violence, Kick-Ass is much more light-hearted than Chronicle. This new film offers the tale of teenagers getting actual super-powers, not merely training and skills to fight crime. And not once do any of the three teens in Chronicle even suggest they should use their new found powers to “fight crime.” Indeed, the opposite tendency occurs…
No, the best pre-cursor of Chronicle is not Kick-Ass, but Allen Moore’s 1980s comic series, Miracleman (called Marvelman in the original English version; it was changed to avoid trademark issues on arriving in the US).
Just as Moore created his better known Watchmen characters out of old Charlton super-heroes from the 1960s, so, too, he based the Miracleman series an English super-hero character out of the 1950s. The original version was a frankly cartoonish concept, creating not only Miracleman, but Kid Miracleman, Young Miracleman, Miraclewoman, and other members of the Miracleman family.
But Moore transformed them, from cartoonish comics for children to a dystopic vision of what happens when power runs amuck. Kid Miracleman--who obtained his powers as a young child and who had no adult guidance because of the sudden decades long departure of Miracleman from the scene--has become a sociopath, employing power wantonly and without regard to consequence. In the end of an epic battle between Miracleman and his once-young ward and companion, London is decimated and 40,000 lie dead and dismembered.
This was, perhaps, Moore’s riff on the famous saying of another Englishman, Lord Acton: “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” We see that theme at play again in Chronicle. Three teenagers are mysteriously given telekinetic powers...powers that become stronger over time. Each boy is a prototype: there is the geek, Andrew, with his many resentments; his cousin Matt, the intellectual (he tries to reference Jung at a rave as a pick-up line); and their new friend Steve, the young and upcoming politician, a teenage Barack Obama, friendly, outgoing, always trying to help. What political statement is being made, that he is the first to die?
Andrew’s mother is dying and his father is abusive. As his power grows and strengthens over time, he becomes more divorced from petty human concerns. He uses telekinesis to kill a spider he sees crawling on the floor, first elevating it in the air, then stretching all 8 limbs in star-like fashion, only to finally tear it apart in a chillingly effective special effects effort. He refers to himself as the Apex Predator, a biologic/sociologic concept referring to predators who have no predators of their own, predators at the top of the food chain. And now his telekinetic powers have grown. No longer is it useful only to change the arc of a thrown baseball and do cute magic tricks with. Now he can move cars. And crush them. Now he can fly…
Now nothing can stop him, save his cousin Matt, the intellectual...the philosophical one...the one who wanted to impose rules on the use of their powers. But Matt is not the boss of Andrew. No one is. Nothing good can come of this. Power corrupts.
The story ends in Tibet, a place symbolizing peace and tranquility, reflection and purity of soul. But the story ending is not a happy one. For Tibet is reached by one alone.
Chronicle is a captivating story of the trauma of adolescence and the danger of power. It is a dark but fascinating investigation of Acton’s dictum, and perhaps a political metaphor of those in Washington living a continued adolescence--of believing wish fulfillment can work if only backed by law--with all too much power, from which nothing good can come.