Doug Liman’s Chaos Walking has been a long time coming. Filmed in 2017, the film was deemed un-releasable by Lionsgate at the time and the studio ordered reshoots in 2018 to improve on the Tom Holland – Daisy Ridley – starring sci-fi epic. Now, over 3 years after principal photography wrapped, the world finally sees Chaos Walking and it’s a shame that the finished product isn’t better than it is.
Holland plays Todd Hewitt, a young man living on a strange planet, in a village called Prentisstown, named after their mayor David Prentiss (deliciously wicked Mads Mikkelsen). The village is occupied by only men and something called The Noise makes all their inner thoughts visible and audible to everyone. Todd has never seen a woman, so imagine his surprise when he finds Ridley’s Viola, whose ship has crashed on Todd’s planet. It soon becomes clear that Prentiss only wants to hurt Viola, and Todd helps her escape.
There’s no denying that the concept of Chaos Walking is intriguing. The film is at its most interesting when it leans into the plot’s inherent misogyny which gives it a timely edge; Viola’s visible terror when she is surrounded by only men and the women of the village have disappeared is relatable, but this dynamic is never explored more. Instead, the women and their fate seem like an afterthought, something that had to be included and quickly explained.
Chaos Walking is overstuffed with ideas; it’s clearly intended as a fast-paced fantasy actioner aimed at teens, but the finished film is part sci-fi adventure and part coming-of-age drama, with some religious themes mixed in. It doesn’t help that Liman’s film takes itself so seriously that even the few amusing scenes and exchanges between Holland and Ridley fall flat.
The cast is stacked full of charismatic actors and Mikkelsen especially creates a compelling character as does Holland. There is very little chemistry between Ridley and Holland and while both are engaging, energetic actors, they can’t seem to form a believable dynamic between Todd and Viola. David Oyelowo shows up as a shunned preacher, who seems like he’s lifted from a far campier film, but Chaos Walking also suffers from the lack of a proper antagonist.
Arguably the biggest issue is how the Noise has been brought to the screen. Based on Patrick Ness’ book, and adapted for the screen by Ness and Christopher Ford, Chaos Walking is proof that not every story is cinematic or translates well to film. The hazy, iridescent Noise feels overwhelming, and perhaps this was Liman’s purpose; to really get the viewer to understand how chaotic it must be to exist in this world, but it quickly becomes distracting and turns the story into a chore to be completed rather than an experience to be enjoyed.
Liman’s direction is aimless and lackluster, but he does manage to include several, individually impressive scenes in the film, and gets good performances out of several of his cast members. Holland especially is impressive here, proving to be a charismatic performer who is watchable even when the film he’s in is less than stellar. Chaos Walking sets things up for a sequel and although it’s unlikely it will get one, it would certainly be interesting to see where the franchise could go next. Unfortunately, as it stands, Chaos Walking is a huge miss for Liman.
Chaos Walking is available for premium rental at home on all digital platforms from 2nd April.