March 3, 2021 Chaos Walking (Movie Review)
Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland star in the inter-planetary Sci-Fi event Chaos Walking, which arrives in theatres and IMAX on Friday, March 5, 2021 thanks to Lionsgate.
Based on the 2008 best-selling young adult novel The Knife of Never Letting Go, the first in the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness, the film was adapted for the screen by Ness and Christopher Ford (Spider-Man: Homecoming 2017, The Clovehitch Killer 2018). Directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity 2002, Edge of Tomorrow 2014), Chaos Walking centers around a young man named Todd Hewitt (Holland: Spider-Man: Homecoming 2017, Spider-Man: Far from Home 2019).
In the not-so distant future, the New World is home to one settlement from Earth: Prentisstown, named for its mayor, David Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen: Hannibal series, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story 2016). Here all men are afflicted with a condition referred to as “the Noise,” a force that externalizes their thoughts for all to witness. With the inability to keep secrets, or to filter an inner-monologue, this new frontier presents a dangerous and loud existence.
But it only gets worse for one of the town’s inhabitants when a mysterious young woman named Viola (Ridley: Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens 2015, Murder on the Orient Express 2017) crash-lands nearby, singlehandedly becoming the sole female inhabitant of the entire New World. Without “the Noise,” it’s virtually impossible to track her movements and all too soon her life becomes threatened by a vile plot. Trapped on an alien planet far from everything she knows, Viola must attempt to trust Todd and his trusty sidekick Manchee to protect her at all costs.
Chaos Walking features an exceptional ensemble cast that also includes David Oyelowo (Selma 2014, Queen of Katwe 2016), Demián Bichir (The Hateful Eight 2015, The Nun 2018), Kurt Sutter (The Shield series, Sons of Anarchy series), Cynthia Erivo (Bad Times at the El Royale 2018, Harriet 2019), Bethany Anne Lind (Ozark series, Doom Patrol series), Nick Jonas (Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle 2017, Midway 2019), and many, many more.
From its first moments, the grandiosity of Chaos Walking is impressive. But, to their credit, the filmmakers are careful to keep their creation from ever becoming overwhelmingly niche, as Science Fiction is a genre that can, at times, scare off general audiences. Setting their Action-Adventure on a Sci-Fi foundation, they then blend in survival thrills and a pinch of blossoming romance, all woven around a magnificent screenplay that is apt to appeal to fans across genres.
It’s a product that grabs your attention and engages you quickly, wasting no time in luring its audience into its troubled future. Meanwhile, its world-building is mindful to never sucker punch moviegoers with too much information in any one given moment, all as a blueprint is laid for future sequels that will provide further details of this world. Supported by the divine cinematography of Ben Seresin (Unstoppable 2010, World War Z 2013), Chaos Walking also boasts a powerful score from Marco Beltrami (I, Robot 2004, World War Z 2013) and Brandon Roberts (Logan 2017, A Quiet Place 2018), as well as perfectly understated costume design from Kate Hawley (Crimson Peak 2015, Mortal Engines 2018).
It’s likely no surprise that to bring its new Earth to life, the film utilizes a fairly extensive array of blockbuster effects. So while Chaos Walking never aims to reach the digital dramatics of 2009’s Avatar, it does have its fair share of effect work and, admittedly, sometimes misses the mark. For example, though done well, the “Spackles” feel a bit derivative of creatures we’ve already seen, and the “Crawlers” are little more than mutant insects. But it’s the exterior shots of Viola’s capsule disintegrating upon entry into the New World’s atmosphere that feel decidedly lackluster.
Likely to polarize some viewers is “the Noise.” The amorphous, colorful mist that surrounds each man when he’s thinking offers viewers a clear signal that the words being offered are unspoken thoughts, not verbal communication. Their presentation is artful, frequently minimalistic, allowing these gossamer visuals to externalize the internal and create a visual metaphor for the clamorous information overload that we face in our daily lives.
However, the heart of Chaos Walking is its powerful narrative that centers around discussions that have plagued humanity for hundreds of years. There is the age old quandary of colonization, as well as more modern issues such as gender roles and toxic masculinity. To illustrate the latter, Todd often urges himself to “be a man,” which usually translates to being less emotional and physically strong. Worse yet is the delusion that every woman needs to be saved by a man. Similarly, to do something “like a woman” is considered an insult. But the seeds are planted for a multitude of future topics, from what it means to be an “alien” to wars borne of insecurity and lies to questioning authority.
An exceptional ensemble cast works together brilliantly to bring all of these elements to life. Obviously Holland and Ridley are charged with leading the way, and they do so with a chemistry that often feels complicated, three-dimensional and real. In his role, Holland offers us the grit of an action hero with the raw emotion of a dramatic actor. His interactions with his Toto-esque sidekick are endearing, his tears convincing. And while he moves through the forest with the determination of an actor who is unafraid to tackle a physical role, he still manages to deliver the nuanced pieces of Todd that are necessary to draw his audience into the film on an emotional level.
Ridley’s Viola is a strong young woman who survives a deadly crash-landing on alien soil, and manages to do just fine for herself until she’s discovered. Proving that women don’t need saving, her depiction of Viola is initially standoffish and guarded; in some senses flipping the script on stereotypical gender traits. She never pushes too far, and manages to deliver a strong-willed character who we want to achieve her end goal.
It’s a careful dance that Ridley and Holland play as they are hunted by Mikkelsen’s Mayor Prentiss and his son, depicted by Jonas, who does a solid job of being appropriately wretched. So as Holland and Ridley struggle to survive and reach safety there are heartbreaking moments, plenty of action, and, yes, the occasional Star Wars influence. At 108 minutes, the PG-13 film offers us the chance to escape into a future that looks, feels, and sounds oddly like our own loud times. That said, Chaos Walking is a bold undertaking and one of the best blockbuster Sci-Fi offerings to arrive in the past few years. For this, Cryptic Rock gives the film 4.5 of 5 stars.