Chaos Walking, 2021.
Directed by Doug Liman.
Starring Daisy Ridley, Tom Holland, Mads Mikkelsen, Demián Bichir, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Jonas, David Oyelowo, Ray McKinnon, and Kurt Sutter.
A dystopian world where there are no women and all living creatures can hear each other’s thoughts in a stream of images, words, and sounds called Noise.
Not only have there been multiple reports of delays and re-shoots for Doug Liman’s Chaos Walking (the Edge of Tomorrow filmmaker adapting the first of a trilogy of books by Patrick Ness, translating his own work into a screenplay alongside writer Christopher Ford) but also rumblings of it being “unwatchable”. Now having seen the movie with a greater understanding of what the YA sci-fi story is about, I’d be willing to wager that the incoherence of it all was not from a narrative standpoint but rather its concept of something called the Noise, an ability on a planet colonized as the New World where everyone can hear each other’s thoughts. At one point, it’s easy to imagine Chaos Walking as nothing but externalized thoughts drowning out any semblance of a story and character work.
To a degree, that’s still the primary fault here. Tom Holland is Todd Hewitt (a name you will have burned into your mind 20 minutes into the movie, as repeating his name to himself out loud is the go-to defense for hiding his thoughts), an orphan on the new planet with a dog best friend and more affinity for Prentiss, the mayor of the new settlement as played by Mads Mikkelsen sporting a ridiculous wardrobe of fur coats and goofy hats that immediately give away villainous tendencies, than his adoptive caregivers (Demián Bichir and Kurt Sutter). His mother died when he was a child, and to a greater point, all of the women have been eradicated by an alien species (although technically humans would be the aliens in this situation) known as the Spackle.
Soon after establishing key world-building details, Daisy Ridley’s Viola crash lands into the area. Her mission is to make contact with humans as there is a second wave of people traveling to the new planet. Much to Todd’s surprise, Viola has no Noise but is still able to hear his thoughts, something that greatly troubles Prentiss and a crazed preacher played by David Oyelowo. It doesn’t exactly take a big brain to figure out that Prentiss, who has an ego so big he named the settlement after himself, is hiding something, especially considering Todd’s guardians repeatedly telling him not to trust the eccentric leader who so happens to have mastered the art of controlling his Noise.
On paper, and I can only presume in book form, Chaos Walking is certainly unique with a promise to be unlike anything I’ve ever seen. If you want to compare it to something, take What Women Want (or its remake flipping the script on men) and smash it into a sci-fi environment. Characters glow as their thoughts are vocalized (this is just as much a voiceover performance from Tom Holland as a live-action one) and sometimes holograms enact basic things going through their minds, usually for dramatic effect but also a few cleverly amusing bits. Visually, it’s brought to life clean and pleasant to look at without too much clutter. Sonically, the thoughts are unfortunately barely even thoughts but more like phrases and fragments of sentences. Again, it’s evident that Chaos Walking went through development hell because there’s pretty much no way to execute this without it either being too much or too little, and during all these years the filmmakers still haven’t cracked the code.
Todd and Viola go on the run as it turns out there is another settlement that exists not far beyond them, and one with some startling revelations that further have Todd questioning what he has been told growing up. This means that Prentiss is hot on the trail with his entitled son Davy (Nick Jonas) coming along, although they have barely anything to do and once the motivations of the former are finally revealed, they are simplistic and deserving of more complexity. The same could be said for a lot about Chaos Walking; there’s a lot here but it’s all surface value or distorted to the point you don’t even care (exhibit A: the preacher who is clearly going through an existential crisis about his actions).
It’s more frustrating that various characters spout exposition that often sounds like would make for a more interesting and engaging film, like say the fact that the journey to the New World lasts so long Viola was born on a spaceship. Even a story before the extinction of women (or at least some scenes during that time) would elevate the dynamics between some of these characters and plot points. As it stands, Chaos Walking is aesthetically creative to look at but narratively just marches on towards predictability and mediocrity. For a movie that upfront states the thoughts of a man are chaos walking, what’s here is more like chaos sleepwalking.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com