Chaos Walking Review- Tom Holland Is Charming In The Surprisingly Good Sci-Fi Stunner
Chaos Walking is a beautiful science fiction showcase for the beguiling likeability of Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland.
After four years, the much beleaguered and endlessly tinkered with Chaos Walking finally hits the small and big screens. Countless reshoots, rewrites, and adjustments were made when test audiences were less than receptive. This is ordinarily not the recipe for a hit movie. For director Doug Liman, it’s par for the course. Another gorgeous mess, Jumper, comes to mind as one that could have been great but turned out just mediocre. Some of the set pieces and special effects were dazzling. Watching people teleport in and out of historic monuments was jaw-dropping, the acting and meandering story, not so much. Edge of Tomorrow was a breakthrough. It looked great, the story was cool, and Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt’s performances were fantastic. Regardless if the film was a hit or a miss, Liman’s signature style remains.
Thankfully Chaos Walking is more the latter. It is the type of easy-breezy(until one nasty little scene I won’t spoil for you forces a tear or two) YA film you can watch and enjoy multiple times. It’s not a mega-hit like Star Wars or Spiderman, but it’s good weekend watching, especially for a family. Based on Patrick Ness’s trilogy, Chaos Walking is adapted from the first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go. When a slew of writers failed to produce a cohesive script, Ness stepped in for the final rewrite that did tie things together cohesively.
Well, men suck. That’s basically the premise behind the next YA dystopian novel to find its way to the big screen. Okay, there is a lot more to it than that. The overall premise is, flawed men, become even more flawed when they are threatened. Who better to be said flawed man than a fantastically hardened, fur coat sporting Mads Mikkelsen’s as Mayor Prentiss. He is a controlled and controlling man for which the town is named.
In this future world, a virus has affected every male making their every thought heard. This constant chatter is called “noise .”Some can hide their “noise” better than others. For some unknown reason, women were not affected, and their thoughts stay private. Our protagonist Tom Holland is a winsomely naive and gentle Todd Hewitt who lives with his fathers in Pretentisstown, where only men live. He believes all women were killed by the Spackle, the native race of humanoids on the planet. Todd thinks that because this is what he has been told repeatedly by everyone. When a woman(Daisy Ridley) crash lands right outside of town, Todd is drawn to her because she is physically and mentally silent. His interest in her and desire to protect her pits him against those he grew up with.
How do you convey physical thought? In Liman’s Chaos Walking, you do it through a veritable cacophony of prattle and iridescent waves of cascading shimmers. Translucent birds and poignant memories spring from the men’s heads in torrents of unrelenting emotions. It sounds ridiculous. It probably should have been, but hearing every thought and seeing them come off of the men in pulsing waves of desperate chatter is mesmerizing. There is a reason the five hundredth Spiderman reboot has been so well received. Holland is adorable. He employs the same “ah shucks” sensibility to Todd, allowing his fascination with Viola to be innocently curious instead of lecherous.
Other men, namely Nick Jonas, who plays the Mayor’s obnoxious son, and town Preacher David Oyelowo are considerably less sensitive. Oyelowo, in particular, is so zealous, his literal fire and brimstone condemnations jump from his head in waves of searing red thought fire. It is an intense and well-done effect made better by Oyelowo’s intensity.
This film is often funny. In large part, because Holland is appealing and his signature self-deprecation is perfect for Todd, whose every thought or feeling is projected outwards for everyone to hear. He’s sweet and seems like your brother or son. Yes, some of his thoughts aren’t entirely appropriate. No Todd, she doesn’t want to kiss you, but they are always believable and endearingly benign. Ridley(Viola) is plucky and exasperated as she navigates this new place. It must be so terrifying to hear everything all the time. Viola came to this planet because her parents wanted her to have a better life. Crash-landing on this planet with a bunch of loud brutes probably wasn’t their idea of better.
Costuming by Kate Hawley is good. Her apocalypse-lite meets the Wild West feels appropriate and just this side of futuristic. This is fitting, considering the film reads like a sci-fi western. Background set pieces are designed to fill out shots and round the edges rather than inform any real new world mythology, but they are spectacular to look at. The Spackle’s village is a lush spoked place that is obviously so well crafted because at one time, Chaos Walking would have been developed into a franchise and the spaces explored.
The action is well done and choreographed. Holland strips down and wrestles a giant river squid at one point, and the highlight is a wild white water fight scene that culminates in the aforementioned teary plot beat. When that “something” unnecessarily tragic happens, the superficiality of some of the bigger threads finds some footing. In many ways, that scene is more impactful than the conclusion. Yes, the men of Prentisstown are horrible, but maybe we are teaching our men to be that way, teaching them never to have an emotion. Never have empathy, or show weakness is something our current noiseless males contend with. Chaos Walking is a manifestation of that intriguing if a bit heavy-handed, concept.
In anyone else’s hands, Chaos Walking would have been weird, creepy, corny even. But with engaging Holland and Ridley leading and Mads Mikkelson’s magnetic simmering menace, it is enjoyable. Who better to control the mayhem than Liman, who seems to revel in the madness. As with most of Liman’s films, there is a chaotic brilliance both to the process and the end result. You feel as if you are teetering on either greatness or sheer trash. It’s fun to start the tight rope walk if not always finishing it. This trick was entertaining all the way through. Chaos Walking is out tomorrow in theaters.
As the TV/Streaming Editor for Signal Horizon, I love watching and writing about genre tv. I grew up with old school slashers, but my real passion is television and all things weird and ambiguous. When I’m not watching and writing about my favorite movies and series, I’m introducing my family to the wonderful world of sci-fi, fantasy, and horror. My only regret, there is not enough time in the day to watch everything.