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Review: Chaos Walking (2021)

Chaos Walking (2021)

Directed by: Doug Liman

Premise: Set on a colonized planet, a young man (Tom Holland) lives in a village with no women. The planet’s atmosphere causes the men to hear and see each other’s thoughts. The arrival of a female space traveler (Daisy Ridley) upsets the balance of power in the community.

What Works: Chaos Walking has a unique idea. The thoughts of the men on this planet can be heard and seen in a cloud around their head. The filmmakers visualize that concept in a way that’s interesting and looks credible. This effect fits into the naturalistic look of the movie. Chaos Walking is a science fiction story set on a distant planet but the production design is restrained. Much of the movie looks like a western and that style lends credibility to the fantastic elements.

What Doesn’t: The story of Chaos Walking is a mess. The film is an adaptation of the first book in the young adult fantasy series by Patrick Ness and this story attempts to lay the groundwork for ideas and characters that will presumably come later. That’s understandable but these emerging characters and concepts have to be established in a way that’s relevant to the story at hand. Many scenes of Chaos Walking are completely extraneous. Characters walk on, introduce themselves, and then arbitrarily exit the story. No one in this movie is interesting. That is not the fault of the actors who are doing what the script asks of them and do what they can to make the characters credible. But the two protagonists, played by Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley, just don’t have any motivation or internal life. Characters are defined by their desires and what they’ll do to achieve them. Holland’s character has never met a woman before and there’s a romantic tension throughout the movie but Holland’s character doesn’t learn anything about himself or about women. It’s a squandered opportunity to explore intersex relationships or to use that to humanize the characters. Daisy Ridley’s character is even more vacuous. She’s barely a character and we never learn anything about her. The story puts Holland and Ridley’s characters on the run but there’s no sense of where they are going or why. The villain, played by Mads Mikkelsen, is a generic character familiar to these kinds of young adult fantasy stories and David Oyelowo is wasted in a side role. The empty characters are matched by a lack of drama. There are no tangible stakes to Chaos Walking, making it impossible to make an emotional investment in the story. The film also squanders its chief gimmick. The idea of thoughts manifested visually and audibly is an interesting one but the concept comes to nothing. It reveals little and the story would play mostly the same without it.

DVD extras: Commentary track, featurettes, deleted scenes, and a trailer.

Bottom Line: Chaos Walking is another failed attempt to launch a young adult fantasy series. Every element of this story is wasted or misused.

Episode: #864 (August 15, 2021)