Chaos Walking: The Book is Supposed to be Good, So That's Something
If there’s one overarching “genre” that gets me downright giddy to turn on the TV or go to the theater, it’s a good old post-apocalyptic/dystopian/end-of-the-world romp.
Zombies? I’m in. $h*t hits the fan and the grid collapses? Sold. Mysterious, deadly contagion … Yeah, OK, I’m not a fan of that last one anymore, but you get the point.
Tom Holland as Todd Hewitt, Manchee the dog, and Daisy Ridley as Viola Eade in ‘Chaos Walking.’ (Photo by Murray Close. Courtesy of Lionsgate)
So when I hear there’s a new one (based on a young adult sci-fi novel I’d never heard of by Patrick Ness) about a future where the world’s women have been wiped out and the dudes can all hear all of the others dudes’ thoughts, my interest has been officially piqued.
Throw in actors whose work I generally enjoy – Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, Mads Mikkelsen and David Oyelowo – and you’ve got a winner.
I mean, it’s based on a book that Wikipedia tells me won awards I’ve never heard of, so how bad can it be?
Pretty. The answer is “it can be pretty bad.”
‘Chaos Walking’ goes like this:
It’s the semi-near future and Todd (Holland) lives on a planet that’s a several decades long trip from Earth with his two fathers in the dudes-only community of Prentisstown.
At some point before he was old enough to form memories, his mother and all the other women of Prentisstown were mysteriously wiped out.
The men survived, but they were all inflicted with “the noise,” a force that projects all their inner thoughts to anyone and everyone in earshot. As you can imagine, this leads to all sorts of misunderstandings and shenanigans.
The shenanigans come to an end, however, when a spaceship crashes and the lone survivor is a young woman, Violet (Ridley). Smitten by seeing his first girl, Todd wants to help Violet, despite his mentor, Mayor David Prentiss (Mikkelsen), having more nefarious plans for the young lady.
Todd decides to defy his mentor and toss away the only life he’s ever known to help Violet escape. Along the way learns some of the secrets surrounding his town, his family, and the very planet he’s called home.
Mads Mikkelsen as Mayor Prentiss in ‘Chaos Walking.’ (Photo by Murray Close. Courtesy of Lionsgate © 2021 Lionsgate)
Even now as I’m typing that out, I’m thinking, “I’d watch that. Sounds pretty good.”
Yet somehow it wasn’t.
In fact, aside from the often-awkward interactions between Violet and the mind and imagination of a teenage boy seeing his first girl, there’s not much to enjoy here. By the end, even those start to lose their punch, as they keep happening. So, at least the regularity of awkward teenage boy thoughts is accurate.
There’s a couple of things that really stand out as the black eyes on ‘Chaos Walking.’
First is tempo. The first act is so lethargic I actually had to rewind the movie twice because I found myself staring blankly at the screen, absorbing nothing. The second act was a bit more promising, but things still dragged due to too much filler. The third act was much, much better, but by that time it had built virtually no momentum and things that felt like they could have been substantial were glossed over.
The movie comes in at a manageable 109 minutes, which could have either devoted more time to the interesting act or could have been chopped down to around 90 minutes and accomplished the same thing.
When Viola Eade (Daisy Ridley, not pictured) lands on a planet where all men’s thoughts are on display – a force called “the Noise” – Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland, right) vows to protect her in ‘Chaos Walking.’ (Courtesy of Lionsgate)
Next is “the noise.” In theory, this is an awesome hurdle for heroes and villains alike to overcome. Little to no filter, nowhere to hide. But it just didn’t translate to the big screen like it should have. All the guys walk around with a blurry, CGI cloud around their head – think thought bubble in a Garfield comic strip. It looks hokey, but the true problem is the sound. To show the “thinker” trying to keep others from hearing his thoughts, they make the dialogue garbled and lower the volume. Great for keeping your enemies at bay, terrible for keeping your audience informed.
Finally, while Mikkelsen plays a bad guy, you get the impression that he’s not the bad guy. That honor belongs to Oyelowo, who plays Aaron, the town holy man whose noise looks more fiery than cartoon thought bubbly. The problem is there’s no meat on the bones – he kind of blends into the background, and then all of a sudden he doesn’t and there’s not a real good explanation as to why. There is, but I’m guessing the book fleshed it out better.
‘Chaos Walking’ really is chaotic, which can be good, but it’s not "fun" chaos – it’s, like, actual chaos.
★ of ★★★★★