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Review: Chaos Walking – “A reasonable sci-fi action film”

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Chaos Walking is a new science fiction film from Doug Liman (Edge Of Tomorrow, Mr & Mrs Smith and The Bourne Identity). It stars Tom Holland (MCU and Sony’s current Spiderman) as Todd and Daisy Ridley (Star Wars Episodes 7-9) as Viola.

Todd lives in a settlement on a planet populated solely by men who were part of a first wave of colonizers seeking a new Earth-like home. All the female humans in the settlement have been wiped out in a war with the indigenous beings of the planet, known as The Spackle. The males of the planet, both human and Spackle alike are afflicted with a phenomenon of the planet known simply as ‘The Noise’. The noise is the audible thoughts of every man on the planet that can also sometimes be realised as images in an aura around them. Most of the men, try as they might, are unable to control or silence their ‘noise’.

Viola is the sole surviving member of a crew from a ship that has crash-landed on the planet. She must travel to find a point from which she can communicate with her mothership to rescue her. Todd defies the settlement’s Mayor Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen) and accompanies Viola on her journey as she flees the pursuing men from the settlement.

The concept of the noise and all male thoughts being audible is an interesting notion but is largely used as an exposition vehicle that helps establish relationships and characters, moving the thin plot on without much effort or commitment required. The film touches briefly on this conceit in the context of sexual politics and the oppression of women at the hands of men in the extreme, but almost solely from Todd’s perspective, a man, rather than Viola’s perspective and by the end, we still know hardly anything about Viola other than rudimentary character hooks. Daisy Ridley’s performance is good with what she has to work with, which isn’t much as she is in very similar territory to her Star Wars character. Likewise for Tom Holland who is beginning to corner the market in young, innocent and heroic. David Oyelowo is underused as the woman-hating preacher of the settlement, as is the wonderful Cynthia Erivo. Mads Mikkelsen tries his best to inject more than just standard villainy into his role as Mayor Prentiss, but can only do so much with the script provided.

The action moves on at a pace and Liman does well to combine science fiction with frontier western, but many elements of the film feel incomplete and not fully realised. This was the first adaptation in a trilogy of young adult fiction novels by Patrick Ness and the film feels largely like a set-up. But the key to making a franchise opener is to make sure the first film can exist in and of itself. This is why George Lucas chose Episode IV: A New Hope, if it didn’t get any sequels, it would still work. This is the weakest point of Chaos Walking. Many character arcs (which have clearly been set up to have an arc) disappear with no resolution, the ending feels rushed and light-weight and with extensive re-shoots over a long period of time, release dates repeatedly pushed back, suggests the producers have little confidence in the film, with little chance of any sequels.

The audience is left with a reasonable sci-fi action film that many will watch, think it was okay and forget almost immediately. Given the talent on show behind and in front of the camera, this feels like a wasted opportunity.

Lionsgate announced that Chaos Walking will be available as a “Premium Rental” on all digital platforms in the UK from April 2, 2021.

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