Doug Liman's Chaos Walking is a bonafide sci-fi stinker, squandering the talent assembled in a mediocre adventure flick that's all noise and no focus. Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley have moderate chemistry that carries the film through its endless journey of discovering what it truly means to think freely.
Edge of Tomorrow director Doug Liman returns to the genre with Chaos Walking, written by Patrick Ness and Christopher Ford, based on the book by Patrick Ness. The film stars two of Hollywood’s hottest talents, Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley as they inhabit a world where all of the thoughts of men flow freely into the open space above their head, while factions of people stand divided as they battle within and with those from the sky. Chaos Walking is a fitting title as this film is an absolute stinker, representing a merging of unique, but messy ideas with more-than-capable stars for a sci-fi thriller that’s greatest achievement is delivering a boring Mads Mikkelsen performance.
Chaos Walking takes place on a dystopian planet far into the future, where there are no women and the men that inhabit the world display their thoughts above their heads in a cloud-like haze. There are also other “creatures” that too display their thoughts, only it’s a bit harder to understand since they don’t speak English.
I’ve barely dived into the review and I’m already seeing glaring issues that I had with the film, such as the lack of focus on these other “creatures” and how they fit into the larger story, aside from a quick “oh really?” explanation.
Anyways, Tom Holland‘s Todd is a young and naive boy that loves his dog, misses his mom and thinks the town’s Mayor Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen) speaks nothing but the truth, despite him hiding his noise (thoughts) from everyone and sporting a mad scar across his face.
Todd just wants to impress the mayor and also learn to control his noise as letting it “run wild” shows a sign of weakness and traits of a boy, not a man.
Things get interesting when Viola’s (Daisy Ridley) spaceship crash-lands on the planet and suddenly, a woman exists in their establishment.
The story goes that the “creatures” sabotaged their settlement and killed all of the women, which is why there are only men left to fend for themselves.
Of course, the film dives into that a bit deeper when this newcomer arrives and his greeted with hostility and uncertainty. This sets up the bulk of the story, which is Todd getting Viola to safety in hopes of her coming in contact with her people to warn them of what is going on down on the planet.
Now that we have the quick and dirty out of the way, let’s dive into the film in a more meaningful way and by that I mean I am going to attempt to explain my gripes with the film while also highlighting just what I thought director Doug Liman and his writers were going for.
Chaos Walking sounds like a fairly exciting concept for a multitude of reasons. For starters, it takes place in the future and on a new planet, which brings forth the adventure aspect, but it also features these alien-like “creatures” and the concept of seeing and hearing each others’ noise, which introduces the stronger sci-fi elements to the mix.
To round things off, the film is peppered with a variety of characters, from the green Todd and the fish-out-of-water Viola, to the slimy mayor and religious nut Aaron (David Oyelowo). The world created by writer Patrick Ness does feel purposeful and interesting and I am totally guessing here, but I feel that this story likely worked better as a book, because you’d have those chapters to explore each town and the people within it, not to mention the introduction of the noise and how it effects people.
As a film, Chaos Walking is a bumbling splat of sci-fi concepts and ideas, struggling to string together a coherent story, despite being surrounded by talent upon talent.
I don’t fault Tom Holland or Daisy Ridley for being unable to carry this film, because both actors do a mostly fine job building on their chemistry and expanding upon the world that we are thrown into.
But nothing really adds up to make things interesting or notable, aside from a few moments of clarity that the film achieves in what feels like an accident.
Chaos Walking, to me, highlights the importance of free thought and the power of misinformation and the notions established of what it means to be a man, woman, alien or whatever you identify as.
Tom Holland‘s Todd is constantly struggling to control his noise and while doing so almost always says, “be a man”. This might sound obvious or like a throwaway thought, but it’s actually the driving point of the film, which is that to Todd, being a man means being strong and tough and following orders and killing if necessary, even if you don’t know if killing is the right thing to do.
This is how Mads Mikkelsen‘s Mayor gets into the head of Todd and how he brainwashes his entire community into following his orders blindly, despite them rarely adding up.
Director Doug Liman briefly explores these notions of what it means to be a man and he does so by making Tom Holland‘s Todd slowly start to question his actions and the decisions of others, in unison with exploring and displaying his emotions, especially when things get tough.
Daisy Ridley‘s Viola helps breakdown those barriers by simply existing within the film, because we learn as an audience what really happened to the women of this planet. Viola also kicks the stereotypes of what it means to be a women in the sense that she’s just as strong (if not stronger) than Todd and she can manage just fine on her own without any help whatsoever. This makes it feel like the film is attempting at something big here and just missing the mark almost every chance it gets to make a big stride, despite there being cracks of a good movie breaking through the walls of an otherwise boring endeavor.
Chaos Walking wastes the potential of its supporting characters, including the likes of David Oyelowo, Demian Bichir and Mads Mikkelsen. All three men are given very little to work with and do their damnedest to make an impact in what feels like a waterless pond.
Oyelowo brings the intensity and literally flames out without a second look, while Bichir attempts to be the connective tissue to the past. Lastly, Mikkelsen is the big bad guy that gets his moment in the sun, even though it’s all too brief and falls as quick as he rose.
Chaos Walking just feels like a sci-fi junkie took a blender and stuffed in a ton of good ideas in hopes of turning them into gold, but the result is a bland vanilla protein shake that tastes a bit too powdery and lacking that core element that binds everything together. The world created is unique and worth exploring, but the brief bits that we get to see felt same in the sense that they just reused set pieces and hoped we didn’t notice.
I generally enjoy Doug Liman films, but this one felt like he was on autopilot the entire time, wasting the talent assembled on a high concept science fiction film that wanted to say so much, but settled for very little.