Review: 'Chaos Walking' isn't totally chaotic but it's not great either
Courtesy of Lionsgate
Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland are shedding their franchises’ for something original in Doug Liman’s “Chaos Walking,” which isn’t the natural disaster one would assume, but that doesn’t make it a slam dunk either. Rooted in YA fanfare, complete with dystopian societies and life on other planets, “Chaos Walking” is an ambitious science-fiction adventure where men can’t conceal their own thoughts and women are practically extinct. This creates an interesting dynamic between Holland and Ridley who try to make sense of a screenplay that feels re-hashed and spliced in three different directions (behind the scenes, the film was plagued with reshoots and creative differences). That the final product manages to come across slightly coherent is something of a miracle.
Ridley and Holland play two sides of the narrative: He is Todd, a scavenger who grew up with his father having never seen a woman, while Ridley’s Viola crash-lands on his home turf, sent from earth 64 years ago on a maiden voyage, and is looking for answers. We’re told all the women - including Todd’s mother - were killed by a genocidal attack. The planet they’re currently occupying - called “New World” in some inner circles - has a profound effect on men in which their inner thoughts - a.k.a “Noise” - are broadcasted for all to hear whereas the women - what’s left of them - are not.
“Noise” is a major component utilized throughout “Chaos Walking” and the filmmakers - notably the special effects team and screenwriter/author Patrick Ness - do a seamless job at physically manifesting what Noise looks and sounds like. Marking one of the better interpretations of telepathy, the origin of Noise rivals “The Matrix” in terms of sheer scope and volume despite the shoddy execution and clunky pacing straining it from being the next biggest franchise.
What makes Noise interesting is the way it affects each individual. For David Oyelowo’s Aaron - the town’s angry preacher - his is filled with vibrant colors and living creatures that can attack on a moment’s notice. Then there’s Mayor David Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen) who’s control over his own Noise allows him the freedom to think openly. Mikkelsen is no stranger to playing the villain and despite the character’s power struggle teetering into cliché territory, Mikkelsen finds enough edge to create an aura of unpredictability. Likewise for Oyelowo’s Aaron who carries out a heinous act that won’t be shaken easily and proves he means business.
But it's Ridley and Holland who do most of the “walking” as Viola’s quest to alert an incoming colony of humans - while Todd provides the muscle - is the main driving force. The irony is we can hear Todd’s thought process, thus fleshing out his background and providing crucial character insight, but Viola is left to wander and stare into a void whenever her male counterpart does something strange. In trying to create a pro-feminist message, “Chaos Walking” undermines its sole female protagonist (Cynthia Erivo shows up briefly as the mayor of a nearby town, but it’s not enough to make an impact).
Liman, who found success with the “Bourne” franchise and “Edge of Tomorrow,” stumbled with the pandemic-set “Locked Down” and “Chaos Walking” marks a step in the right direction. And though Holland’s “Cherry” was an awards non-starter, I admire his passion for finding projects outside the box. Same for Ridley’s determination to carve a post “Star Wars“ legacy. There’s no shame in taking big swings, even if some miss their target.
CHAOS WALKING opens in theaters Friday, March 5th. COVID-19: Here at TheOnlyCritic.com, we’re committed to covering theatrical releases, but there’s still inherent risks in regards to going inside movie theaters. Please make sure you look up your local theaters COVID-19 guidelines and procedures before purchasing a ticket, and if you don’t feel comfortable going into a theater, please don’t. A positive review of an exclusive theatrical release is not an endorsement to put your health and safety at risk. In most cases, critics receive digital screeners or are invited to socially distanced press screenings, which defers heavily from what you might experience.