There might not be two bigger, brighter stars than Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley. Both are now household names, Holland after becoming the latest cinematic-version of Spider-Man/Peter Parker and Ridley becoming Rey, the newest force who carried the weight of a galaxy on her shoulders in the recent Star Wars Trilogy (Episodes VII, VIII and IX). Matched with respected action director Doug Liman ("Edge of Tomorrow," "The Bourne Identity") and placed in an award-winning Young-Adult Science Fiction universe, the main question going into "Chaos Walking" had to be: What could go wrong?
More than you could imagine, would be the answer. However despite being stuck in production hell for nearly five years (more on that in a bit), the two bring just enough clarity to what is otherwise a messy, noisy misfire...that could have been a lot worse.
"Chaos Walking" is a film that some thought would never see release. It actually finished principal photography back in 2017, but disastrous test screenings resulted in several re-writes, with the book author, Patrick Ness, ultimately coming on-board to save his own material. Delayed time and time again, significant re-shoots were required to retool the film, but because of its stars' obligations to their other movie franchises (the MCU and Star Wars, respectively), reshoots didn't occur until 2019, two years later.
From there the film was delayed further, finally being placed on the calendar in 2020...and we all know what happened to big-budget films set for release in 2020. The pandemic sent "Chaos Walking" back to the shelf, where it is finally - FINALLY! - nearly five years later, being put in front of audiences in theaters.
This backstory is enough to trouble even casual movie-goers, let alone those who had at one point thought that this film was not only a "sure thing," but perhaps the beginning of a new cinematic universe should it succeed.
Novelist Patrick Ness is the one responsible for his "Chaos Walking" book trilogy, books that were best sellers in the UK beginning with the first installment, "The Knife of Never Letting Go," released in 2008. It takes place in the future on an unnamed "New World" that is not Earth, where there is only men and no women. All men are now burdened by what is called "The Noise," where a man's inner-thoughts are broadcast for all to hear, visually represented on-screen by a strange mystic cloud that emanates from the actor's head. Some, like Mayor Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen) have mastered the ability to wield their mind as an illusionary weapon, or conceal their thoughts altogether. But most, like Todd (Holland) and his father, Ben (Demian Bichir), are not as disciplined in the art.
Of course, not all women are gone, because Viola (Ridley) crash-lands on the planet and soon befriends Todd, who tries to keep her out of the reaches of the Mayor and a crazed preacher (David Oyelowo), all the while trying to control his thoughts and urges around the only women he's ever seen since he was a boy.
There is a lot going on in "Chaos Walking," nearly enough to match the noise that its characters are constantly experiencing. The visual technique is really distracting, so much so that I found myself not really even watching Holland's performance so much as I was watching the CG "noise" surrounding his every thought. And while the star power is there, there is much that is never developed, like Oyelowo's one-note character...someone who seemed interesting at first but who was never really given much to do or purpose to exist.
Some of the action works, but even how the film is staged will leave you feeling claustrophobic. For being on an alien planet, we get tight shot after tight shot, where you can almost feel the actors working on sound stages.
Knowing the troubled production history of the film, did that play into me not giving it a positive grade? I think it's quite the opposite, actually. Had I known nothing about its problems going in, I might have been much harder on it. But seeing that it overcame so much even to see release, it's clear that things could have been much worse.
"Chaos Walking" ends up being mildly enjoyable, with the overall aura that it should have been a lot better. But for all the chaos, all the noise, "Chaos Walking" is just OK, which is a let-down given the talented superstars attached behind and in front of the camera.
Genre: Adventure, Sci-Fi.
Run Time: 1 hour 49 minutes.
Starring: Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, Mads Mikkelsen, Demian Bichir, Cynthia Erivo, David Oyelowo, Ray McKinnon, Nick Jonas.
Directed by Doug Liman ("Locked Down," "Edge of Tomorrow," "Mr. & Mrs. Smith," "The Bourne Identity," "Swingers").
"Chaos Walking" is in theaters on Friday, March 5th, 2021.
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