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Since the mega success of franchises based on books found on the shelves of the YA section of bookstores and libraries like Twilight and Hunger Games, we’ve seen Hollywood quickly take on a ton of popular series at haste. Chaos Walking was filmed around that time in 2017, then had to wait two years for Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley and Spider-Man's Tom Holland to complete additional photography… and then a global pandemic happened. Four years after it originally started production, Doug Liman’s film comes at a time when an old fashioned dystopian thriller is a bit of a novelty, and it has actually benefitted from the extra time.
Chaos Walking is an adaptation of Patrick Ness’ 2008 novel The Knife of Never Letting Go, which has been adapted by the author and writer Christopher Ford (Spider-Man: Homecoming). The story follows Tom Holland’s Todd Hewitt, who is the youngest living in a settlement full of men who have become infected with “The Noise,” a force that reveals their unfiltered thoughts to each other. Todd’s reality is challenged when Daisy Ridley’s Viola crash lands on his planet – the first woman he has ever seen in his life, and the first with thoughts that all remain in her head.
Doug Liman’s take on the bestselling and award-winning book is an introspective thriller that prioritizes its concept over action and dazzle. Chaos Walking is muddled, but it does provide an interesting story about the destructive nature of thoughts, especially when those of the toxic male variety are the loudest sound being heard.
Chaos Walking (mostly) pulls off its challenging sci-fi concept.
Whether or not you like Chaos Walking will have a lot to do with it if you can get behind “The Noise”. It is a complicated and challenging idea to bring to screen, and forces out the typical dynamics we're accustomed to in movies. "The Noise" takes a bit of time to adjust to this new and different world that is built for the movie. For those who latch on to it, Doug Liman does explore it in some compelling ways that is relatable to growing up and may send the audience’s own minds wandering about how sacred our own inner thoughts are to us.
“The Noise” is a main character in Chaos Walking, and its execution is not foolproof. David Oweloyo’s Aaron is most wronged by “The Noise'' as the settlement’s vile preacher, and there are aspects of world-building that leave something to be desired. It does work with Tom Holland’s Todd, who plays a teen who struggles to control his “Noise” throughout the film – not unlike how anxiety may intrude our ability to go about our lives, or how personal feelings about another may block our focus from seeing what’s actually going on.
Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley offer a wholesome dynamic that plays into the familiar.
Chaos Walking comes at an interesting time for fans of Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley, as Holland has been moving out of his comfort zone with films like The Devil All The Time and Cherry, and Ridley has recently completed her Star Wars journey. It’s great to see the pair together in this setting, although they both seem to be playing into the same types of characters we’ve come to know them as. Much like Rey, Ridley once again must play off a mysterious and reserved role as Viola, while Holland’s youthfulness is a key aspect of what makes his character distinctive, like his young Peter Parker is in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Comparisons aside, the pairing is worthwhile as the actors bring some much needed emotion to Chaos Walking and serve as an anchor for the film. There's also some fun moments between the pair that plays off "The Noise," and speaks to each of their charismatic capacities.
Chaos Walking’s double-edged sword is its ruggedness.
Chaos Walking has a quiet and understated texture about it that keeps your attention. It’s a big-budget movie featuring huge stars like Mads Mikkelson, Nick Jonas and Cynthia Erivo, yet has an unexpectedly intimate feel. It doesn’t go for the typical “action movie” routes, but still offers a handful of tense edge-of-your-seat sequences. Some of its strengths do turn into issues that underwhelm in the third act, especially considering the movie has to wrangle a larger storyline from Patrick Ness' Chaos Walking book trilogy.
Overall, Doug Liman's Chaos Walking is a tight dystopian concept packed with something to ponder over, but the result is middle-of-the-road.