Chaos Walking (2021)
Chaos Walking (2021)

Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure Running Time: 1 hr. 49 min.

Release Date: March 5th, 2021 MPAA Rating: PG-13

Director: Doug Liman Actors: Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, Demian Bichir, David Oyelowo, Mads Mikkelsen, Nick Jonas, Cynthia Erivo, Kurt Sutter

 


 

“S

top looking at my thoughts.” The Noise is a man’s thoughts unfiltered – a stream of consciousness now connected to everyone left stranded on the planet, though in the dystopian New World of 2257 A.D., there aren’t a lot of people still alive, largely due to a war against a native species. Speaking aloud is no longer necessary as close proximity allows individuals to read each other’s minds. And it’s difficult to cloud one’s opinions (it takes years of practice to learn control), which means that farmhands and various workers inhabiting Old-West-style towns (with a few futuristic upgrades) are continually in trouble for combative or judgmental ideas figuratively (yet shown literally) spilling out of their brains.

The extreme invasion of privacy is something of a living hell. Of course, there’s another major problem: there are no women left on the planet, having been slaughtered during the war. But that’s about to change when a years-delayed second wave of spacefaring visitors arrives in the New World’s atmosphere, only to have their vessel burn up and crash land near the home of Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland) and his father Ben (Demian Bichir). And the only survivor appears to be a girl, Viola (Daisy Ridley). “Never seen a real woman before.”

Although the Noise is a curious invention for a sci-fi premise, it’s immediately bizarre and clunky to demonstrate. Glowing, smokey, ethereal computer effects dance around the heads of the characters, sometimes generating precise moving images (like mirages), while a flood of voices overlap like the dialogue track in a Robert Altman film (one of the main characters even wears a fluffy, burnt sienna coat like Warren Beatty in “McCabe & Mrs. Miller”). It’s an uncinematic concept, but it allows for easy villains, such as a preacher (David Oyelowo in an embarrassingly unconvincing role) whose flock has entirely wandered, and Mayor David Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen) and his foolhardy son Davy (Nick Jonas), who clearly wish to use the situation to advance their control over the townsfolk.

The blend of Western costumes, laser-weapons, spacecraft, and bits of advanced tech is interesting (at its worst, reminiscent of “Timerider” or “Doomsday”), but the road-movie design, turbulent quest through an overgrown wilderness, and pursuit by grubby hunters quickly resemble “The Walking Dead” or “After Earth” or “Bird Box” or the many other postapocalyptic thrillers in which mankind is the ultimate enemy against the few stragglers who cling to moral decency amid the often vicious struggle simply to survive. For all of its attempts at a unique vision, “Chaos Walking” plays out in a rather generic fashion, full of conventional personas.

Also problematic is the reluctance to define the boundaries and settlements of the New World, the capabilities for space travel, and plenty of other technological details. Normally, the slow reveal of information would rivetingly string audiences along, but here, the secrets – and the repetitive refusals of any of the lead characters to ask questions – tend to be irritating. Fortunately, effective humor surfaces on occasion, and fairly continuous action keeps the pacing tight. Also, it’s nice to see that Viola isn’t always a victim in need of rescuing; she’s given several opportunities to fend for herself, proving she’s made of tougher stuff than the typical damsel-in-distress (especially considering that in a world without women, she’d be the target of plenty of dark, inescapable thoughts).

But with the basis on a young-adult series of novels (the screenplay is by Patrick Ness, the author of the books, beginning with “The Knife of Never Letting Go”) and the PG-13 rating, “Chaos Walking” is a conspicuously tame sci-fi adventure. It’s not that it necessarily needs a harder edge, but the ideas it chooses to explore could have benefitted from greater severity; the dangers here rarely feel potent, and most are far from original. Plus, by the conclusion, which just sort of happens, with countless loose ends untouched, the filmmakers are clearly hoping to do additional chapters – never a good way to mold an introductory entry.

– Mike Massie

  • 4/10