Chaos Walking, the long-delayed sci-fi vehicle starring Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley, in which men’s thoughts manifest about their heads and there are no women (or are there!?) has been dumped into theaters near the end of the pandemic. So, is it worth watching? Depends what you’re into, I suppose.
Based, loosely (sorry if you’re a fan!) on a trilogy of books that were decent hits. Chaos Walking seems to have smashed a bunch of the ideas together, cut others, and been left lacking because of it.
So do those changes make the movie better? Eh. Not really? In smashing all three stories together and chopping out huge plotlines it seems what’s been left has suffered a terrible fate to be a mediocre story with flimsy world-building and ‘Big’ ideas that are promptly abandoned every 20 minutes. The biggest idea, the one the film puts front and center in the trailer, is the concept of The Noise.
On this planet, New World, there is a germ or something in the atmosphere that has made it so all men’s thoughts are revealed frequently in vague light show-like effects around their heads. It’s a cool effect, sometimes put to real menacing effect with characters like the Preacher (David Oyelowo) and the illusions more adept users can conjure. For the most part, though, it’s just a recipe for muddled audio and exhausting dubbing. This key conceit wears out its welcome within the first 20 minutes.
Now, back to the other conceits that the movie quickly abandons. Plot ideas like: There is only one town of survivors. The women are all dead, killed by aliens in a war. Well, actually, there is another town (and just a two-day walk away). And, well actually, the women weren’t all killed by aliens. Actually, the women were murdered in the original town because it is run by nutjobs like The Mayor, played by Mads Mikkelson, and the menacing Preacher. By the end of the movie, everything that makes it unique has been abandoned, nothing interested is being explored and you realize you’re watching another bland, dystopian YA action movie with better actors than the movie warrants.
The movie sets up novel ideas but doesn’t use them to full effect. Early on we see Todd can create lifelike illusions using his Noise. That doesn’t return until the very end and not very well. Throughout the movie we see Todd throwing a knife with absolute mastery. Again, nothing comes of it. In the final showdown, you think Todd will throw a knife on the Mayor rather than let his father figure be shot. Nope. But it’s okay, Todd, laying bloody and wounded, conjures an illusion/thought/memory of his mother to taunt the Mayor. The Mayor, who up to this point has been shown to have absolute control of his Noise and doesn’t seem to really be out of his mind, is easily distracted by these visions so that Viola can swing a stick at him.
Alright, I’m just rattling off bad plot beats because I just don’t know what else to say with this mish-mash box of parts we got.
After two years of reshoots and a troubled production, you wonder what might have been. At one point Charlie Kaufman was supposed to write this!? What we are left with is mediocre, underdeveloped, and uninteresting. It’s too bad, there seemed to be so much potential.
Also hey if you’re not in the mood to see multiple on-screen animal deaths steer clear! A horse is put down after a bad fall and a dog is rather brutally killed by one of the villains. I guess it was necessary to make the main character sad? It wasn’t.