Chaos Walking Review – The Sick Straggling Entry in a Genre That’s Long Dead

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Usually I start my reviews by stating who directed it and detailing the plot synopsis while including the main actors and who they’re playing.

However, I just stopped myself from writing that as I realise that even though Chaos Walking says it’s “directed by Doug Liman”, it truly feels like anyone could have had their name under that “directed by” line and it would have made no difference at all.

The film does star Tom Holland as Todd, a young man living on a distant planet in the future, a planet where all the women have seemingly died a while ago and all the men can see and hear each other’s thoughts visualised around their heads. Soon enough, a craft makes a disastrous landing on the planet and its sole survivor Viola (Daisy Ridley) encounters Todd and together they seek to contact Viola’s people and prevent the planet’s terrible past from repeating itself.

The concept is fresh and interesting, coming from a highly acclaimed book series by Patrick Ness, also the film’s credited co-screenwriter (alongside Christopher Ford). This idea of men’s thoughts being seen and heard in full, like some twisted form of unfiltered social media, leads one down the concepts of toxic masculinity and the truth that men hide just to get what they want.

This film adaptation takes the concept, explores it in some detail in the first twenty minutes or so, throws in Viola to shake things up and lead us down a complex road of thematic depth and interesting storytelling, then slowly forgets everything and resorts to tired clichés of the YA novel adaptation genre that died a slow painful death sometime around 2016.

Young protagonist, doesn’t fit into their world, yearns for escape, meets an attractive member of the opposite sex who comes from a completely different world they never knew, chase across some kind of dystopic/fantasy/sci-fi landscape, encounter a band of resistance fighters against the evil whatever people, reluctantly join the fight, reveal some contrived truth of the past the protagonist never knew, defeat big bad guy #1 and notable henchmen played by way-too-talented actors for this kind of material, leave movie off with just enough temporary resolution before hinting at larger things to come in hopeful sequel. Rinse and repeat throughout the mid-2010s.

Chaos Walking is no different, except it has exceptional talent in the cast doing absolutely nothing with these empty and useless characters, namely Mads Mikkelsen, David Oyelowo, Nick Jonas, and Oscar nominees Demián Bichir and Cynthia Erivo. The script, worked on by at least seven screenwriters including Charlie Kaufman of all people, was most likely greenlit in that Golden Era for middling YA adaptations between 2011 and 2013. It languished in development hell for way too long, got some A-list talent involved along the way and a dependable director who’s more than familiar with quick turnarounds on scrutinised studio projects, was shot in 2017, poor test screenings in 2018, reshoots in 2019 under a new director, planned for 2020 release, pushed back for obvious reasons, and now dumped out in a lame early 2021 spot simply because no one cared.

It’s so obvious from the finished product that any semblance of interesting or new ideas faded away years ago and all that is left is studio mandated characterisations, action scenes and plot developments. The end result creating nothing.

Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley are wonderfully talented actors that any director or studio would be lucky to have. I have to believe they were trying their hardest to work with whatever material they were given, because what we get is inconsistent performances and a lack of chemistry that bogs so much of the runtime down. Because there was most likely no coherent direction or consistency of the screenplay, these actors suffer from it. Then you have that aforementioned stellar line-up of actors, all randomly popping up to play throwaway characters with unmemorable lines, all of which makes you think “why did you get them to play that?”

There was a good chance I wasn’t even going to write this review, simply because Lionsgate, the producing studio, doesn’t care about this. Chaos Walking is the sick, straggling member of an animal pack that are long dead. It’s tiresome, stereotypical, uninteresting, and a waste of everyone’s time. Chalk this all up to a $100 million dollar write-off, because no-one will be remembering Chaos Walking in a year’s time*. Everyone involved in shooting and making this movie deserves better. You deserve better.

Director: Doug Liman

Cast: Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, Mads Mikkelsen

Writers: Patrick Ness, Christopher Ford, (based on the novel The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness)

*Editors note: Just like nobody remembers Doug Liman’s other foray into YA-adjacent fare, Jumper.

Christopher John

Christopher John is an emerging flim critic based in Perth and primarily writes for The Curb. He is a double-degree graduate of Edith Cowan University in Communications and Arts, and creates various flim reviews and video essays on his YouTube channel "Christopher John". Christopher has published online work with ECU's Dircksey magazine, Taste of Cinema, Pelican Magazine and Heroic Hollywood. His first love in flim is Star Wars, his newest love is Akira Kurosawa, and hopes his future love will be Tarkovsky and Studio Ghibli (he's getting to it).

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