Review: 'Chaos Walking' (2021) Dir. Doug Liman
Delve into dystopian adventure based on the sci-fi trilogy 'Chaos Walking' and adapting its first book, 2008's 'The Knife of Never Letting Go', by author and screenwriter Patrick Ness...
2257 AD. On a planet colonised as New World, its inhabitants are all male; the female population have since died out during a great war. These males are subjected to a condition known as 'The Noise', where they can all see and hear each others thoughts.
Young Todd Hewitt (Holland) lives a very normal life, but his life is thrown into chaos when a scout ship from Earth crash lands leaving one survivor, a female called Viola (Ridley) and the first girl on the planet in decades.
The town mayor, David Prentiss (Mikkelsen), shows interest in Viola and her wellbeing, but Todd starts to discover that not everything is as it seems. Viola holds a key truth to the world; a truth Prentiss wants to keep silent and only Todd can be trusted to keep her safe...
Bearing the hallmarks of a fantastical science-fiction adventure, exploring a dystopian society and the survival of humanity against the odds, the first book of the 'Chaos Walking' trilogy finally makes it to the big/small screen. It's just a shame this doesn't have the intended impact or engrossing adaptation required to warrant another two films to be made. A fate that suffered 'The Golden Compass', this may well be a trilogy that never gets made.
This is a story that blends neo-Western with science fiction. Trenchcoated villains thunder across the landscape on horseback to hunt down the blonde haired female Viola, played by Daisy Ridley in her first outing since 2019s The Rise of Skywalker. Ridley is key to the story and her appearance as the last female seen on New World in decades suddenly changes the fragile peace in this lush country world. Ridley retains a wild-eyed innocence, akin to that of her Jedi counterpart Rey, thrust into an adventure she didn't want to be part of, but one she shoulders and sees through to the end. However her character Viola doesn't get to really do anything and there's nothing of great interest to her, bar the twist you know to expect with her obvious importance.
It's a shame because with the impact Ridley made in the genre during her time in 'Star Wars', the material since isn't letting her shine away from these naïve characters. Coupled with fellow franchise lead Tom Holland, these two are fit the leads of a young-adult adventure but one that skips over any attempt at mature themes, engaging plot or in-depth action and drama.
Tom Holland may be riding on the success of his Marvel fame and 'Spider-Man' role, but away from that safety blanket he fails to be anything memorable.
Holland is the bankable name that underpins the Marvel franchise as Spider-Man, and much like work involving the Russo Brothers or Chris Hemsworth, his name now carries a weight that appeals to audiences expecting something great. Sometimes it delivers - Extraction - and sometimes it doesn't. Holland is sadly not a strong enough actor to hold a film on his own even, and he yet again plays the same faux-American accented, baby faced, semi awkward wannabe hero we see him as when he plays Peter Parker. He's a mid-twenties actor, but referred to in character her as a boy. He's too boyish for his own good to branch out from what we expect of him. There's no range here, and even with Ridley the pair fail to conjure up any drama or chemistry.
Dane Mads Mikkelsen bears a glorious fur-skin coat and fedora as town mayor Prentiss. You know he's not all he sounds bearing some natty facial scars and laying down his rules with that cool, collected silky yet gravelly voice only he can deliver. Mikkelsen plays our villain perfectly in the small time he has on screen.
The concept of the story is interesting to say the least. The thoughts and dreams of men can be heard and seen, but the thoughts and dreams of women can't. On paper, this can work easier than on film it seems. With nice CGI swirls around the heads of those bearing their thoughts coupled with the actors voice-over expressing their thoughts, this can get muddled on film. It's a perfect way for trying to shoe-horn in exposition and awkward humour, mostly on Holland's part. Yet often he comes across as a typical male - obsessed with wanting to kiss and touch this girl.
You'll just wonder what sort of people have such obvious and plot-leading thoughts around each other. What do you do when faced with villains who want to know the location of their prize? Think about them of course. What do you do when you try not to speak your mind? Think about it of course and then say sorry every time you do. It wears thin, and sadly doesn't provide much of a crux to this world that fails to conjure up any real myth and lore.
Away from all the thoughts and dystopian new rebuilding of hamlets and towns, the short run-time has Holland and Ridley on the run from the powers that be trying to silence Ridley and her knowledge about New World. If they can reach a safe settlement and signal off the planet, letting her escape to freedom. Don't hope for a thrilling cat-and-mouse chase across the beautiful wilderness however. It's too bogged down in self-exploration and dealing with thoughts and feelings to warrant any excite or ability to care for the characters. The only character you'll end up caring about is the dog.
There are threads about humanity, hope and dreams, but sadly the talent on screen don't gel with the source material. New audiences aren't given the chance to get invested in the core themes, but instead face a rather drawn out young-adult drama full of (what feels like) teenage angst, self identification and lots of slow scenes full of talking and (not much) chaos and walking.
Sitting on all that potential, 'Chaos Walking' fails to build characters and establish lore and just delivers a slow, boring and flat young-adult drama.
'Chaos Walking' is a co-production between Lionsgate, TIK Films, Hercules Film Fund, Bron Creative, Quadrant Pictures, Allison Shearmur Productions and 3 Arts Entertainment