It has been a hell of a long time coming but finally – for better, or worse – we are able to venture into a brave new world and go Chaos Walking. The new film from director Doug Liman, no stranger to production problems, delays and reshoots, and based on the best-selling novel by Patrick Ness and his trilogy of books, has had a long old slog to get to this point even with the pandemic wreaking havoc on release dates and the industry at large.
For those of you who don’t know the behind the scenes problems, the film was first announced in 2016, filmed initially in 2017 and was set to be unveiled in 2019. Poor test screenings and negative murmurings abounded and re-shoots were ordered but due to Tom Holland‘s web-swinging commitments and Daisy Ridley’s exploits in a galaxy far, far away (amongst others), release dates had to be changed, plots had to be cleared up and now, some five years or so after its initial conception, the film has finally arrived. But was all the back and forth and cutting, copying and pasting all worth it? Sadly not.
Holland plays Todd, a young man part of The New World in 2257AD who like all the men on the planet, is now afflicted with The Noise, a condition that amplifies their thoughts for everyone to see and hear. Only half the men from the old world survived with all of the women killed in a civil war with the Aliens that used to inhabit the land. Then, a space pod crash lands with only one survivor: Viola (Ridley), the first female to descend in decades but her appearance rattles the natives, with Mayor Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen) leading the charge to apprehend her.
For all its impressive cast, filmmakers and beyond, Chaos Walking is simply that: chaos, another case of a film that simply cannot nail down anything it is aiming for. Tonally misjudged, hopelessly unstable and poorly executed, it’s another cautionary tale that while looking and feeling like another Fantastic 4 (aka Fant4stic) doesn’t quite sink that low thanks to its two winning leads. But it isn’t far off. From the outset, the concept feels unrefined, with the air of the “unfilmable” filling the screen just like the Noise that forms the centre of the film’s plot, which is horrendously irritating throughout. There’s efforts to talk about sexism, humanity, segregation and our place amongst the stars, but most fall flat and, like the film itself, become a muddle.
That’s not to demean or diminish the impact of Ness‘ books on the world and his fanbase – many call the books exhilarating and heartbreaking, everything the film isn’t – but for all the movie’s failings in adapting it, you can’t help but feel that it was better left on the page. The acting talents involved fare slightly better – Ridley and Holland are always great and while their chemistry never sparks, they carry the film enough to make sure our strange intrigue in this mess isn’t wholly wasted. Liman does his best to inject his usual frenetic energy into the film and some set-pieces feel purposeful and exciting but with the obvious inconsistencies smothering the entire endeavour, he too struggles to make his usual impact. To paraphrase Homer Simpson: now let’s never speak of this again.
Sci-fi, thriller | USA, 2021 | 12 | Video On Demand | 2nd April 2021 (UK) | Lionsgate Films | Dir.Doug Liman | Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, Mads Mikkelsen, Demián Bichir, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Jonas, David Oyelowo