Famously delayed and reshot Chaos Walking finally premiered this weekend four years after principal photography took place. Reshoots aren’t always a bad thing. They can sometimes take valuable insights from test screening and incorporate them to make the movie better. But they can also be a sign of something just not working behind the camera that cannot be fixed, no matter how many times you shoot a scene. Unfortunately, this is the case with Chaos Walking.
The film is set 200 years in the future on a planet called New World, whose atmosphere causes men’s thoughts — known as their “Noise” — to be projected outside their heads. It follows Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland), a boy living in a settlement called Prentisstown, where women have become extinct. Todd has never seen a woman until Viola’s (Daisy Ridley) ship crash lands on New World.
I really dug the premise of this movie based on the book, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness. It promised some interesting insight into the male psyche while also being a fun and engaging futuristic action movie. Plus, it stars a couple of the most recognizable movie stars on the planet. I’ll start with the latter point, since it’s the much more positive of the two.
It took me a bit to be on board with Tom Holland as an actor. Like many people, the first of his films I saw was, Spider-Man: Homecoming, which I think is one of the weakest entries in the MCU. Peter Parker as a character comes across as grating to me in that movie, but that has as much to do with the writing as it does anything else. But I’ve since seen The Impossible, Locke, The Lost City of Z, Onward, and most notably The Devil All the Time. The diversity Holland has already established in his filmography is impressive, but Devil is what really convinced me that he’s legit. So I was excited to see what he could bring to Chaos Walking.
Ridley, on the other hand, has been significantly less notorious. She obviously has the most recent Star Wars films under her belt, but other than that, her filmography is pretty sparse. So I was just excited to get a glimpse into what she could do as a lead of a non-Star Wars film. It even includes other fairly big names such as David Oyelowo, Cynthia Erivo, Mads Mikkelsen, and Nick Jonas.
The result is… pretty underwhelming. This film has a respectable 109 minute runtime, but everything seems so rushed. Holland and Ridley try their absolute best to make the movie engaging, but despite their magnetism and charisma, their characters lack much of anything that would make me care about them. The supporting cast, while fine (other than the horribly cast Jonas) is given nothing to do other than be the, “I know them!” eye candy.
There is unique characterization for Holland’s character Todd because the audience gets to hear and see literally everything that goes through his head, but the novelty wears off quickly. I will admit, though, men’s thoughts always being outside of their head does look cool. It gives director Doug Liman something to work with to make the movie stand out. But when you lack the motivation for the visuals, the movie as a whole suffers for it.
Slow scenes that explore character and theme are few and far between in Chaos Walking. And when they do come, a lot of times they are just frustrating because one character will ask a question and the other will keep their secrets close to the chest. The main theme of masculinity is mentioned but never explored. Todd’s visible thoughts tell him over and over to “be a man” and we ultimately see it come to a head at the end, but nothing meaningful is ever really said about the idea itself. It’s as if the filmmakers thought it was enough to merely scratch the surface without going even one layer deep into what the implications of this kind of society would be. Instead, mostly unsurprising twists are thrown at you and the characters are off to a new location before we or they are able to make any sort of profound realization.
By the end, I’m not even sure what the movie was trying to focus on the whole time. My best guess is that it’s visuals and action because those got the most screen time, but it’s certainly not character or theme, because anything meaningful from those things is left to a bare minimum. It squanders whatever potential it could have had from starring two excellent A-Listers with an over-reliance on action instead of world building or theme (it’s a whole world where men’s thoughts are on full display and no time is spent trying to explain it!).
Chaos Walking had moderate promise, but fails to fulfill most, if not all, of it. I felt like I watched a bunch of things happen leading to end credits instead of a nicely flowing story. The abrupt ending with questionable sequel bait seems to prove that the filmmakers care about this movie about as much as you should. And that’s not a lot.