Chaos Walking Review: Forgettable, Dull Sci-Fi Wastes Ridley And Holland
Weakness rots from within Chaos Walking, an all-star sci-fi calamity behind the bars of lousy YA adaptations.
Long before my mortal eyes befell Doug Liman’s movie, it was deemed ‘unreleasable’ following a disastrous test screening, punted out of its March 2019 release slot into the void of indefinite delay amid reshoots, rejigs and, presumably, regret.
Two years later, it’s finally here and ready to raise some Noise in a New World. I just have one question: what was so bad about the first cut, if this is what they decided to release?
Immediate sin from the first frame: a quote attributed to an ‘unknown new world settler’, as if the origin of Replicants would have more credence coming from an anonymous off-world colony resident. It reads, warranting a DiCaprio screen-point: ‘The Noise is a man’s thoughts unfiltered, and without a filter a man is just Chaos Walking.’
The film hones in on Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland), a young man living in a small town with no women – due to them having been killed off by the native ‘aliens’ – where men’s thoughts fill the air in a mist of words and images due to the planet’s mysterious force. Anything going through your head, aloud for the community to hear. Did I mention his name is Todd Hewitt? If there’s one thing you’ll remember, it’s Todd Hewitt, Todd Hewitt, Todd Hewitt.
The settlement’s equilibrium is rattled by Viola (Daisy Ridley), whose ship crash lands on the planet. As she’s unafflicted by Noise, Todd helps her make a run for it and discovers his world’s strange, rather grim secrets along the way.
Liman is good at action: The Bourne Identity, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and most of all, Edge of Tomorrow. Here, you’d think he was an entirely different director – the filmmaking feels aimless, sloppy, rarely having a sense of cohesion or awe between the uninspiring cinematography and editing (FPS horse-riding, lazy cutaways from gunfights, an ultra-boring landscape, to name a few grievances).
The story itself isn’t bad, per se, adapted from Patrick Ness’s trilogy by himself and Christopher Ford. The Noise as a device can be intriguing, particularly when played for embarrassment, such as Todd’s fawning thoughts for Viola, or suspense, like not giving away someone’s position in your head. One has to imagine it was a difficult concept to put to the screen.
Then there’s laughable lines, for better or worse, like Holland despairingly tucking into a plate of beets, thinking: ‘Beets, always beets, hate beets, turns my sh*t red.’
But there’s so many elements to the adventure, it’s almost tiresome: the meaning of David Oyelowo’s preacher’s rage feels entirely lost; Cynthia Erivo is painfully wasted in what amounts to a bit role; one moment stoops to contrived depths to get an emotional reaction; and while Mads Mikkelsen carries the most gravitas as the local mayor with an extraordinary coat, his story is just Noise amid the Chaos.
Ridley and Holland turn in inoffensive performances, though lacking in the chemistry such partnerships demand. Considering production originally began in 2016, they’re lightyears ahead of their past selves. Sure, one’s a Jedi and the other’s Spider-Man, but they’re also terrific actors in their own right beyond the tentpoles, and their prowess isn’t in anyway utilised here.
Even if you look past the soporific plotting and sub-par CGI, there’s still The Bye Bye Man paradox; if you’re told not to think about something, you think about it. This wall may be too preposterous to overcome for some. Bless its heart, it even sets up a sequel – surely doomed for limbo à la Alita.
A hokey, dull mess unbefitting of any of the talent involved. I’ll forget it, and you’ll forget it.
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