Chaos Walking (2021)
Directed by Doug Liman
Production hell welcomed another film into its dominion in 2021, when “Chaos Walking” (what better title to describe this movie’s path to theaters) finally released in March. It’s been almost ten years since Lionsgate first tried to find a writer to adapt Patrick Ness’s (“A Monster Calls”) novel trilogy for the big screen. Charlie Kaufman was originally tapped, but pulled out. Its path to finding a director was similarly bumpy. They wanted Robert Zemeckis (who wouldn’t?), but that fell through. It’s been four years since shooting began in Montreal, and two years since they decided they needed to do reshoots. That’s when the budget ballooned to $100 million. Reshoots pushed the movie’s release into the COVID-19 pandemic, which meant its box office numbers were abysmal—only a quarter of its budget was recouped. I might feel bad for “Chaos Walking” if the end result was much more than cookie-cutter YA mush. I thought young adult sci-fi was a thing of the past? I guess, considering when this movie began its path to release, it kind of is a thing of the past.
The year is 2257, and it’s been years since colonies of people moved from Earth to New Planet. But something about the atmosphere of the planet puts men at a peculiar disadvantage—all their inner thoughts can be heard freely by anyone near enough. In Prentisstown, a colony of all men, Todd (Tom Holland) tries to hide his “noise” by repeating a mantra in his head. He learned from the town’s mayor (Mads Mikkelsen), who has learned to quiet his noise almost entirely. Others, like the radical preacher Aaron (David Oyelowo), think the noise is freeing—his is particularly loud. When a ship crash lands nearby and the only survivor is a young woman, Viola (Daisy Ridley), the mayor seems threatened by her presence and demands her capture. For the first time in his life, Todd will leave Prentisstown to try to lead Viola to a nearby colony with more welcoming leadership.
Because it’s set in a world where you can hear every random musing of the characters, “Chaos Walking” is chock full of annoying inner-thought voiceover narration. And because the first space colony we encounter is made up entirely of men, the inner thoughts—as you can imagine—are even more annoying. And throughout the movie (with only a couple weak exceptions), all this overflowing toxic masculinity goes mostly unchecked. I wish there had been more resistance, and that these unhealthy thoughts were reckoned with—not only when they came from the villains, which was bad enough, but also Tom Holland’s character, who had been taught that feelings were bad because men weren’t meant to emote. That’s the kind of stuff that, unfortunately, this screenplay (ultimately adapted by Ness himself, with help) doesn’t care to rebuff. The character of Todd never reckons with his unhealthy upbringing. Maybe that’s for a sequel, since this movie apparently only covers the first book in Ness’s trilogy…but seeing how poorly this movie was received, and how much money it cost, a sequel is highly unlikely.
While “Chaos Walking” is pretty typical young adult fare (down to the mostly satisfying but ultimately predictable ending), I will admit to liking the cast. First, Mads Mikkelsen is never a bad choice for a villain. Damien Bichir plays a likable mentor to Todd, and does a wonderful job. I think we’ve known of Tom Holland for so long that he can no longer comfortably play pubescent teens. He’s still got a baby face, but he’s beginning to look more and more like the 25-year-old he is. After “No Way Home,” we may need a new Spider-Man. But for now, he does fine. Daisy Ridley’s character seems older, so the fact that the actress is 29 (born just two days after me) didn’t throw me off. Their rolls mostly call for a lot of panicked running, and the two experienced fan-favorite actors are at least quite capable of that.
For me, it all comes down to the idea of everyone’s thoughts being broadcast. It may have been sufferable in novel form, but translated to a visual medium it quickly becomes tiresome. Any attempt to make this movie would have been a bit annoying, in my opinion. But still, there had to have been a way to make it more enjoyable than this.