CHAOS WALKING

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Doug Liman

Stars: Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, Mads Mikkelsen, Demian Bichir, Nick Jonas, Kurt Sutter, Cynthia Ervo.

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Doug Liman returns to the sci-fi genre for the first time since 2014’s Edge Of Tomorrow with this dystopian adventure set on a distant planet known as the New World.

The year is 2257. Man has already left Earth to settle another distant planet that can sustain life. The new settlers basically wiped out the original inhabitants, known as “the Spackle.” But the natives unleashed a virus that caused some sort of mutation that affected the male population. The men in the settlement of Prentisstown on the edge of a wilderness forest are affected by a cacophony of sounds and visions, a phenomenon known as “the noise”, in which they can hear the thoughts of others in the community. It has driven many of them mad. There are no women here as apparently they were all killed off in the bloody civil war against the indigenous population.

Todd Hewitt (played by Tom Holland, best known for playing the latest incarnation of Spiderman as part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe) is one young man afflicted by the noise. He works in the fields of the outlying farm run by his two adoptive fathers (played by Demian Bichir and Kurt Sutter).

But then one day he stumbles upon Viola (Daisy Ridley, from the Star Wars franchise, etc), an astronaut whose craft crash-landed on its way to deliver supplies and a new wave of colonists to the New World. Viola just wants to contact her mothership. But the community’s mayor, the fanatical David Prentiss (played by Danish actor Mads Mikkelsen, also recently seen in Another Round, etc) has learned to control his noise and is a powerful and controlling figure. He sees Viola as a potential threat that needs to be eliminated.

Todd sets out to protect her from the posse arranged by Prentiss and lead her to the safety of Farbranch, a rival peaceful settlement. The two go on the run through the forest. It becomes something of a generic chase and survival thriller by the end. But Todd is continually embarrassed as he projects his thoughts about how he is attracted towards this feisty female. Amongst those hunting Todd and Viola is Aaron (David Oyelowo), a violent fire and brimstone preaching preacher driven mad by the noise.

Chaos Walking has been written by Patrick Ness (A Monster Calls, etc), who has adapted his own best-selling 2008 YA novel The Knife Of Never Letting Go for the screen, along with screenwriter Christopher Ford (Spiderman: Homecoming, etc). The novel is the first book in a dystopian sci-fi trilogy. The film deals with big themes of toxic masculinity, power, loss, freedom, and good versus evil. The concept of visually and aurally presenting the noise for audiences as a sort of purple hued stream of consciousness works well enough, and the special visual effects add an unusual dimension to the film.  

But the ambitious concept is let down by the rather bland execution from Liman (who has previously demonstrated his ability to handle big action sequences in films like The Bourne Identity, etc), who seems to struggle to make much sense of the incoherent material. This attempt to build another YA dystopian franchise along the lines of The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner or Divergent trilogies seems doomed from the outset. Its attempts at world building raise far more questions than it answers, and even the big reveal about what really happened to the women of Prentisstown is a letdown.

The film was shot on location in both Canada and Georgia, and there is some great cinematography from Ben Seresin (Unstoppable, etc) that brings the wilderness settings to life. In some ways Chaos Walking has the look and ethos of an old fashioned western adventure crossed with elements of the sci-fi genre.

There is a nice chemistry and hint of sexual spark between Holland and Ridley, who sports a blonde wig for her role here. Having played Spiderman, Holland handles the physical aspects of the role well. Mikkelsen is less than menacing in his role as the tyrannical mayor. But the supporting cast wastes the talents of Cynthia Ervo, Nick Jonas and Bichir in thanklessly stereotyped and poorly developed roles.

This was something of a troubled shoot. Although the film was shot in 2017 its release has been delayed by reshoots from director Fede Alvarez (Don’t Breathe, etc) and numerous re-edits, which is never a good sign.

★★☆

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