Synopsis – A dystopian world where there are no women and all living creatures can hear each other’s thoughts in a stream of images, words, and sounds called Noise.
My Take – With the massively successful Hunger Games franchise and comparatively poorly received and incomplete Divergent series in their kitty, it might have seemed like Lionsgate would be done with their share of YA novel adaptions for a long time, after all the sub-genre is no longer a rage anymore.
But since they originally bought the rights to author Patrick Ness‘ trilogy of novels in 2011, they couldn’t have guessed that it would take ten years for the adaption of the first book, The Knife of Never Letting Go, to hit the screens, that too in the middle of a global pandemic.
Though pre-production began in 2016 and ended filming in 2017, all in the safe hands of director Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow), the film was deemed un-releasable upon testing, calling for extensive re-shoots, which, due to the ridiculously busy schedules of co-leads Tom Holland and Daisey Ridley, could be completed only in 2019, with a helping hand from director Fede Álvarez (Evil Dead, Don’t Breathe). Yet, the film struggled to find a release date for two consecutive years.
Hence, keeping in mind all the behind the scene troubles, it doesn’t come as a surprise that the film is a quite letdown. Personally, I possessed no knowledge of the source material, but being an avid reader myself, I knew the series was very well-received. But for the feature adaption, I am confident that viewers will struggle to get past its flaws which have marred every single aspect of an already jumbled and boring narrative.
Though the film seems to possess a weird yet interesting concept with some imaginative visual ideas to back it up, the overall feature just feels flat. Resulting in a disappointing and frustrating time at the movies which fails to reach even half of its expected potential.
Set in 2257, in a New World far from Earth, the story follows Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland), a young man, who has spent his entire inconsequential life in a community called Prentisstown, with his father Ben (Demián Bichir) and his partner Cillian (Kurt Sutter). The town is filled with only men because years ago, the Spackle, a race of alien, attacked them by spreading a germ, which killed all the accompanying women, including his mother, and infected the men with ‘the Noise’ a force that puts all their thoughts on full audio-visual display.
Though some inhabitants like Mayor Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen), who runs the town with his son, Davy (Nick Jonas), have trained themselves to hide their feelings better than others, but young Todd is just learning to do so, usually by just repeating his name in his head any time he wants a feeling hidden. However, his small life implodes when he comes across Viola (Daisy Ridley), the first female he has ever seen, and the sole survivor of a crashed spaceship whose mission was to scout the planet for the incoming colonist.
Naturally when the word of her arrival reaches the Mayor, he immediately wants to take possession of her and use her to take control of the spaceship, extending his rule over thousand new souls. That is until, Todd determined to defy the pecking order decides to help Viola escape and find a communication system to warn the incoming settlers of the dangers ahead, including a radical preacher called Aaron (David Oyelowo), whose thoughts are terrifying and filled with destruction.
Though the film isn’t even close to the mess The Dark Tower (2017) adaption was, it sure is resolutely dull, which is unusual for director of Doug Liman‘s caliber, whose other release of the year, Lock Down, despite its many faults was at least engaging. Sure, novel-to-film adaptations can be tricky, as you are adapting an item that has an established audience, while catering to a newer audience, and it is visible that the screenwriters, Patrick Ness and Christopher Ford (Spider-Man: Homecoming), have tried to avoid the pitfalls of previous book-to-screen adaptations by streamlining the plot, but in the process they have ended up over-simplifying it.
Because with an interesting concept, the film certainly shows promise at first glance, especially with the plot point about how women can hide their thoughts while men cannot, which provides an opportunity for a very nuanced look at how this can affect society. But for reasons unknown, the script glosses over all this and proceeds down a convoluted road.
Instead we get a dozens of unanswered questions about how and why these people have traveled to this far-away planet, and the fact that this society is doomed to die out with no women around is also never brought up, which might be the weirdest part of this whole tale. Just like that the whole horrendously edited film either misses critical plot points and chooses to entirely forget story elements previously established.
Even the characters are not spared from underdevelopment, we are only hinted about details regarding Viola’s parents, and though we are told that Todd’s mother died, we never know how. The film also chooses to have the traditional plot point of blaming an issue on another race/species, but never explores the idea when the true villain is finally revealed to be Prentiss himself not the Spackle, who I believe were absolutely not needed at all here. Even his whole idea of supposed world domination is so familiar.
But what is seriously up with Aaron? He is supposed to be a preacher seeking redemption and is after Todd and Viola, but you never know why exactly. Even in the end, you never fully understand his actions and what drove him to join the chase.
Sure, the film has decent looking special effects, but despite being based on a different planet, the whole world building is half-heartedly done, as all see are plain backdrops that never feel ‘other-worldly’ in any way. Though the Noise is well played generally throughout the comic elements becomes stale eventually.
However, the biggest blunder the film does is that despite having a cast that includes the likes of Tom Holland, Daisey Ridley, Mads Mikkelsen, David Oyelowo, Cynthia Erivo, Demián Bichir, Nick Jonas and Kurt Sutter, the film lets each member of this talented group down terribly with an awful script. On the whole, ‘Chaos Walking’ is one of the most disappointing, frustrating films of the year that wastes its incredible franchise starter potential.
Directed – Doug Liman
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 109 minutes