Chaos Walking is one of those painfully frustrating Hollywood films that takes an original premise, throws an obscene amount of money at it and then butchers it for approximately 120 minutes.
The premise in this case is supplied by Patrick Ness, author of The Knife of Never Letting Go, on which the film is based. A few hundred years into the future, humans have fled the now uninhabitable Earth and have settled on the aptly named New World, a planet rich with land and resources but with one slight hitch. On New World, the unfiltered thoughts of men are visible to all, swirling around their heads in the form of purple clouds known as The Noise.
We open on Prentisstown, an all-male New World settlement, ruled by the eponymous Mayor Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen in his signature villainous role). Here, we meet teenager and main protagonist Todd Hewitt (played by Tom Holland, who is perhaps the only thing worthy of praise here), who is struggling to embrace life in the all-male colony. The action begins when a spaceship crashes on the outskirts of town and Todd meets its sole survivor, a young woman by the name of Viola (Daisy Ridley). Mysteriously, Viola has no Noise and the men of Prentisstown are immediately suspicious. After a few intimidating conversations with Mikkelsen’s sinister Prentiss, Viola and Todd go on the run.
Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland try their hardest to give Chaos Walking some credibility but there is not much that can be done with the cliché-laden script to lift it above YA fan-fiction status. The film’s attempts to ride the post-Hunger Games wave of dystopian fiction are astoundingly blatant and if this were 2013, they might have worked, but now, such attempts feel staggeringly outdated. This obsoleteness is due, in part, to the film’s tumultuous production process. It began filming in 2017 but after poor test screenings in 2018 and a delay to accommodate Holland and Ridley’s other commitments, reshoots commenced in 2019. Cue a global pandemic, a change in director and umpteen script redrafts, Chaos Walking arrived approximately 2 years later than scheduled as something of a narrative mess.
Each character, story arc, and narrative beat feels derivative of another flick in the YA-dystopian genre. Even something as original as the Noise is engineered to feel cliched. What has the potential to generate a relevant commentary on the male psyche becomes a vehicle for Tom Holland’s character to mentally exclaim, ‘pretty girl!’ and ‘kiss her!’ every time he sees Ridley’s Viola. It’s bordering on infantile. What is perhaps most frustrating about Chaos Walking, though, is the undeniable potential it has. With such a stellar cast, unique premise, and eye-watering budget you cannot help but wonder how it all went so wrong. This could have been the beginning of an epic and original trilogy. Instead, we are left scratching our heads over a clumsy and derivative disappointment.Chaos Walking is available for premium rental at home on all digital platforms from April 2nd .