Chaos Walking Review: Not a chaotic mess, but nothing worthwhile
After nearly a decade long development hell that consisted of late reshoots and tons of writing changes, Edge of Tomorrow and American Made director Doug Liman’s Chaos Walking has finally arrived to deliver plenty of intriguing potential it just comes short of fully achieving.
The film, based on the first book in Peter Ness’ Chaos Walking trilogy titled The Knife of Never Letting Go, brings viewers into a unique dystopian world in the near future where men are afflicted by a force called “The Noise” that puts all their thoughts on display. The concept of The Noise is easily the standout aspect of the film, but it’s not always for the best of reasons. It’s not explained very well since the opening is a straight up auditory nightmare with how character motivation and role introductions are total mess because of all the chatter overlap. It’s used more as an over-used narration and plot device that makes the storytelling bland. There’re some cool visuals to it like men using it to create illusions as obstacles, like gates or even doppelgangers, but this aspect is never really explained. It just comes off super random and only when the plot calls for it.
The only time The Noise is well-executed is when it’s elevating the story, character relationships, and world in more subtle and interesting ways. There’s an interesting element to the film’s main protagonist Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland) where he repeats his name in his thoughts to hide his true feelings. It’s also cool that he can replay images and memories through The Noise to elevate the impact of his character relationships, feelings, and fears. It even adds some fun moments that build a nice connection between Todd and Viola (Daisy Ridley), a girl who crash lands on his world called New World and who is unaffected by The Noise. It helps create some good chemistry between Ridley and Holland that viewers will enjoy and allow for some levity in the film.
The Noise also works in building up the film’s main antagonist Mayor Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen) and some of the themes surrounding the all-male encampment Todd is a part of. The way that Prentiss uses The Noise makes him a much more intriguing mental threat with how he’s able to put pressure on other men to reveal information they’re trying to hide from him and keep his own thoughts hidden. He even uses it to cull a herd of followers at his command and Mikkelsen delivers the most compelling performance of the film. It’s especially interesting how The Noise plays into a major twist in the film that explains why Todd and Prentiss’ encampment only consists of men and are on their own. It’s an interesting showing of how dangerous toxic misogyny can be and how its paranoia can create devastating and drastic consequences.
As for the main story of Todd trying get Viola to a lost encampment to contact her main ship to rescue her before Mayor Prentiss can reach them, it’s fine. As said before, the beginning is rough, but the middle has more action-packed moments and impactful character development that draws you back in before the film unfortuantely rushes through its finale. For the film having so many familiar faces and names, none of them have performances that really stick with you aside from Mikkelsen and sometimes Holland and Ridley when they’re able to let loose. The characters themselves aren’t all that memorable and sometimes even just thrown in. For instance, there’s no real reason that a character called Aaron/The Preacher (David Oyelowo) is in this film since he doesn’t add much of anything to the plot.
The world-building just falls flat for the most part since the information given isn’t all that deep or delved into. The film talks about other aliens on New World but doesn’t ever do anything else with them aside from talk about them in the plot and have Todd have a close encounter with one of them. There’re also talks about other encampments that the film never delves into, so they aren’t as interesting as Todd’s encampment. Truth be told, Chaos Walking is supposed to be the start of a trilogy, but never creates enough intriguing lore surrounding New World or its characters to make you want to return to it or learn more. Overall, the world just feels unmemorable and doesn’t grab your attention enough to be fully invested or intrigued by it.
Chaos Walking may not be the chaotic mess that it’s hellish development suggests it would be, but it’s still not all that great. There’re some solid moments, interesting characters, and potentially cool concepts surrounding The Noise that make it a unique and relatively tolerable watch, but definitely not a memorable one.