Two unlikely companions embark on a perilous adventure through the badlands of an unexplored planet as they try to escape a dangerous and disorienting reality, where all inner thoughts are seen and heard by everyone. (from IMDb)
Chaos Walking is a long-delayed Young Adult novel adaptation that has finally seen the light of day. Based on the book “The Knife of Never Letting Go” by Patrick Ness, Chaos Walking was filmed and completed in late 2017 before undergoing reconstructive surgery with studio-ordered reshoots in 2019. The movie’s original 2018 release date was moved to 2020, and due to a global pandemic, it didn’t see a release until early 2021. Directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne Identity, Edge of Tomorrow, Mr. & Mrs. Smith), Chaos Walking is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi story about a human colony established on another planet called New World in the year 2257 AD. Tom Holland plays Todd Hewitt, a teenager growing up in this colony called Prentisstown where only men exist; all women had died some years ago. To make living on New World more complicated, the men are plagued with something called The Noise, which is an audible stream of their unfiltered thoughts. The town is run by a mayor named David Prentiss, played by the always reliable Mads Mikkelsen (Casino Royale, Doctor Strange), who has been able to control his Noise, but the act of hiding your Noise is considered a sign of weakness. When a space pod crash-lands in Prentisstown and its lone survivor is a girl — played by Daisy Ridley — life in the town is turned upsidedown as Prentiss tries to hunt her down, while Todd tries to save her.
The idea of hearing people’s thoughts might sound interesting, but it proves to be frenetic and annoying from the start. While it probably works much better on paper, in actuality, it feels like too much (although I do realize that that is also kind of the point of it). The only thing that seems to make it work the times that it does is the solid acting performance from Holland. Still, there’s so much about Chaos Walking that just… lacks. There’s something missing from a story that feels like it should land a lot harder. Instead, it mostly feels rather ordinary. I wouldn’t venture to say it was necessarily ever boring, but even when the action and suspense kick in, it just feels pedestrian at best. It’s one of those movies that, when the finale eventually roles around, you realize it never really seemed to truly get off the ground.
And it’s really tough to pinpoint just what it is about the movie that isn’t working. Liman, although reportedly a tricky director to work with, has made some good movies in the past for sure. Jumper may not be one of them, but it still is an entertaining effort. Liman may be best known for directing the 2001 The Bourne Identity and then the far-too-underrated 2014 sci-fi actioner Edge of Tomorrow (AKA Live. Die. Repeat.), starring Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt. It’s a strong movie (dare I say Liman’s best?) that gets better with repeat viewings (pun not intended), but it proves that Liman can make good movies. Even his 2005 romantic action film, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, is still a fun one. So what went wrong? I hadn’t heard of Ness’ novels that inspired the film (then again, I’m just not keeping up on Young Adult novels at my age), but the cast and premise definitely intrigued me (C’mon… it’s Spider-Man and Rey!). It’s been said that the movie pales in comparison to its source material, and given the resultant film, that’s not hard to imagine. It also surprises me to hear that Chaos Walking was meant to launch a franchise (much like the failed Jumper was supposed to, too), because the movie doesn’t really seem to end on a cliffhanger, and didn’t really seem to leave much open to warrant further exploration. Sure, some plot threads are laid out and quickly abandoned, but when the movie’s over, there just wasn’t enough to make the viewer want to see more… and this is coming from a movie containing some pretty big stars at the moment, too.
What exactly worked in Chaos Walking? As bland as the movie tends to feel, it’s hardly awful (then again, I suppose what would be considered “awful” changes from viewer to viewer). Yes, a great cast is a bit wasted, but there definitely is some chemistry between Holland and Ridley. My favorite scenes are when it’s just the two of them sharing a quiet moment. Sadly, this doesn’t happen very often, and much of the movie ends up kind of being sensory overload. The Noise is visibly represented as a colorful haze emanating from a man’s head, and some of the characters can even manipulate it to create visions or even bring memories to life. Sometimes the overlapping dialog representing the conflict in one’s thoughts works really well, but the overabundance of sound and the colorful visuals end up being too much. While the action scenes aren’t super interesting, some of the set pieces are. An aged spaceship wreckage sequence is pretty impressive to look at, and I couldn’t help but wonder how involved making a set like that must have been. The musical score in the film doesn’t add much to the experience overall, but it doesn’t really detract from it either. The movie has some of the ingredients to make it work, it just doesn’t add up enough.
The spiritual content of the movie is a strange one. In the opening scene, Todd comes in contact with a man named Aaron, who most people call “Preacher,” who was supposedly, at one time, the colony’s minister. In the scene, Todd’s thoughts state that no one goes to church anymore, so why would they need a preacher, which leads Aaron to hit Todd across the face. All throughout the movie, Aaron’s Noise is firey and violent, talking about judgment and never about God. Later in the film, Todd comes in contact with a much kinder group of people who actually meet in a small church. It’s a drastic contrast to what he’s used to. However, we don’t see anything else about their faith at this point. Later, Aaron reveals that he got to a point where he couldn’t tell God’s voice from The Noise and was clearly lost, but he has turned into nothing more than a violent villain at this point. It’s a sad thing to see a “preacher” represented this way, but I supposed his turn towards evil is a believable one if he lost sight of who God was over time.
As one might expect, the content is pretty abrasive at times considering we can hear many of the characters’ thoughts. There’s an almost constant stream of PG-13 grade profanity, most of it being the “S” word with over 30 uses of it (and much of it from Holland’s character). It’s certainly annoying and unnecessary, and it doesn’t help the story in any way. There isn’t any sexual content, but we do briefly see Tom Holland’s bare butt at a distance as he wades into a lake to go hunting. It also seems to be implied that Todd’s caretakers – two men named Ben and Cillian – may have had a romantic relationship. The only allusions to this is when one gets injured and the other cradles them affectionately as a spouse might (or at least a family member–not just friends). Violence is frequent, but seldom gory. Still, we see a man drown an animal at a distance, Todd fights a monster with a knife (and repeatedly stabs it), and the finale shows some bloody blaster rifle wounds. Overall, the content is still pretty intense (as it usually is in Liman’s films).
While definitely not a complete loss, Chaos Walking is, at best, a disappointing sci-fi action movie with a good cast. If you’re a fan of any of the central players, it’s probably worth checking out, but if you’re a fan of the book (or really good sci-fi stories), there’s a chance you shouldn’t.
– John DiBiase (reviewed: 6/2/21)
iTunes / Digital Copy Bonus Features Review
Chaos Walking is now available on 4K, Blu-Ray, DVD, and Digital HD. Along with the feature film in a Blu-Ray/DVD/Digital Copy combo pack, there is the theatrical trailer, a director’s commentary with Doug Liman (and the film’s producer and editor) and a surprising amount of Extras:
A Director’s Noise (18:08) – Director Doug Liman addresses the film’s production problems and working with unfinished scripts (for this film and others he’s done). The actors also talk about the film’s challenges as well as Doug’s directing methods. There’s also a great deal about The Noise here and what it was like for the actors to work that into their performances. (1 “Oh my G-d”)
Inner Thoughts with Patrick Ness (9:02) – Author Patrick Ness talks about the book and getting it made into a movie. The cast and crew also talk about the story, and how Daisy loved the books and was so excited to be a part of the film. (1 “S” word, 1 “Oh my G-d”)
The Source of the Silence (7:17) – Daisy talks about the reshoots and the filming experience before and after the two different shooting sessions.
Citizens of Prentisstown (10:07) – Author Patrick Ness and the film’s crew talk more about The Noise and the characters of Prentisstown. They talk about Tom and his performance (Daisy talks about him too), then they talk about working with Mads and how his children were so excited when they heard he’d be working with Nick Jonas. (1 “Oh my G-d”)
The Music of Chaos Walking (4:18) – This featurette covers two scenes in the film, with co-composers Brandon Roberts and Marco Beltrami both offering commentary on the musical themes used for the story.
Establishing Shot (8:01) – This appears to be an exclusive to iTunes as an iTunes Extra. Here, cinematographer Ben Seresin talks about designing a movie for viewing in various formats – from IMAX to cell phones. He also gushes about how beautiful it is to work with Dolby Vision. (1 “S” word, 1 “H*ll”)
Deleted Scenes with Optional Audio Commentary (45:01) – Yup, there are a whopping 45 minutes of deleted scenes! Some are lumped together in a single section, but you can’t view them separately; all of the scenes are part of one, long 45-minute viewing.
“Prologue with Young Todd” shows Todd as a baby watching the colorful Noise swirling above his head, and seeing a vision of his mother. (1 “Chr-st”) We then see an 8-year-old Todd in church while Aaron preaches about obeying God. Todd’s thoughts betray him about Aaron’s teachings and the preacher then whips young Todd’s hands. The mayor comes into the church and we hear Todd’s Noise expressing his admiration for him. The next scene shows Mayor Prentiss taking Todd and his son Davy out hunting. Here we already start seeing Davy’s jealousy of the attention his dad gives Todd. Prentiss gives Todd a knife and teaches him that man must kill. Later that day, on his birthday, Todd’s caretakers give him his dog as a gift.
“Walk Through Prentisstown” is an extended sequence of Todd walking through the town and interacting with people in the town. (3 “g*dd*mn”, 2 “h*ll,” 1 “j*rk-off” as an insult, 1 “S” word)
“Todd Finds Viola First Time at Crash Site” is more of his first interaction with Viola. The scene as shown in the final film slowly transitions to unfinished film with the actors in front of a green screen (where the crash site is). They added more of Prentiss searching the crash site, finding Viola, and then his men chasing her through the woods on horseback. (2 “h*ll,” 1 “Oh my G-d”)
“Lean-to Proof of Concept with Storyboards” – I’m honestly not sure why this is in here? It’s basically what you see in the movie when Viola and Todd are under her purple tarp in the rain, but it transitions to storyboards about halfway through. (1 “Oh my G-d”)
“Extended Farbranch with Wilf” – This shows an entirely cut out story thread that doesn’t seem necessary, so I see why it was cut, but it leads into the next batch of deleted scenes. It starts out with more talk between Viola and Todd where she tells him the Noise is annoying and that the “secrets” he thinks she’s keeping are not secrets but just her private thoughts (this sequence should have definitely stayed in the movie). The man who wants Todd to leave the most holds a shotgun on him to kill him for the loss of his wife. He insists he didn’t know the man’s wife and the man breaks down in tears and Todd runs away. After this, the leader of Farbranch tries to send Todd away in peace, bringing a Spanish man, named Wilf, on a sort of makeshift horse-drawn carriage to lead Todd out of town. The man then abandons Todd on the road and keeps going. Prentiss’s men arrive so Todd goes back to the colony to help Viola. (4 “S” words, 2 “h*ll”)
“Alt Farbranch Escape and Answer Camp” shows that Ben’s Noise projecting Viola in the finished film wasn’t the original intent for that scene. Here, Viola is really Viola during that moment, while Todd sets off a helicopter type vehicle nearby to cause a diversion (This idea works better than Viola being Ben’s fabrication because she looked way too real). They then escape, but Ben is wounded and sort of pretends to die when Prentiss goes to finish him off. We see that he survives, however. Viola and Todd then find Wilf tied to his cart after Aaron had attacked him. They free Wilf and he gives them a ride to a different camp where we find a whole new group of people. They take them captive and they eventually escape. (1 “F” word, 2 “S” words)
Lastly is “Todd and Mayor Third Act Talk.” Here, we see a sort of warehouse-like camp/base where Prentiss’ men bring Todd in to talk to Prentiss. David admits that the women had hated the men for them knowing their true thoughts. (1 “S” word)
– John DiBiase, (reviewed: 6/3/21)
Parental Guide: Content Summary
Sex/Nudity: A man passionately cradles another dying man, hinting they may have had a romantic relationship; Todd takes off all his clothes to get into a lake to go hunting. He removes his pants in front of Viola (who blushes), but Todd doesn’t seem to acknowledge the awkwardness of the situation. We then see his bare butt as he wades out into the lake; Todd imagines he kisses Viola, which we don’t realize is in his thoughts till she irritatingly asks what he’s doing.
Vulgarity/Language: 1 possible “F” word (as a character is tumbling down a hill), 30 “S” words, 5 “S.O.B,” 3 “a” words, 1 “a**h*le,”8 “Oh my G-d,” 12 “h*ll,” 3 “d*mn,” 3 “G-d,” 1 “Swear to G-d,” 1 “cr*p”
Blood/Gore: Todd throws a knife at a bug and the blade impales it against a tree. He then cuts it open, with goo splattering, and throws it to his dog; We see a hunter on horse has two severed hands on a rope; Prentiss has an x-shaped scar across his face; We see a little blood on a man’s shirt after he was shot and is dying; We see a little blood when a man knifes a horse to kill it after it accidentally broke its leg; Viola has some blood on her cheek; Todd has a bloody cut on his shoulder and arm; We briefly see a lot of raw meat hanging in a slaughterhouse; We see what looks like blue alien blood as Todd stabs a monster in a lake; Ben has some blood on his mouth; Prentiss has some blood on his mouth and chin; Todd has blood running from his nose; We then see blood all over a man’s shoulder and briefly see a blaster wound there; We see blood on the pants of a man near his knee; We see blood all over a woman’s dress in a Noise vision; We see a wound scar on a man’s bare shoulder.
Violence: Todd throws a knife at a bug and the blade impales it against a tree. He then cuts it open, with goo splattering, and throws it to his dog; Aaron, the town’s preacher, hits Todd across the face; We see a hunter on horse has two severed hands on a rope; Davy falls off his horse when Todd scares him with a snake vision from his Noise; A space capsule enters the atmosphere and burns up, tossing around crew on board inside; We see the firey wreck of a crashed pod; Men on horses chase Viola thru the forest; Davy sets off a futuristic device by accident that blows little explosions throughout a building’s wall and ceiling; Todd knocks a rifle out of the way of shooting Viola; Another guy shoots at them, then Davy shoots a man in the chest; The men continue to chase Viola and shoot at her; While riding, Todd and Viola crash and roll down a steep hillside; A horse breaks its leg, forcing Todd to kill it with a knife; Todd’s Noise imagines himself choking on food; A creature drags Todd off and he stabs it with a knife to get away. It throws him and the two roll into the water where Todd stabs it repeatedly with a knife till Viola asks him to stop; Todd imagines being punched repeatedly inside his Noise; Blaster fire from a rifle obliterates a man in an explosion; A woman shoots at a man holding a sword; A man pursues Viola and Todd to a river, where they get a boat and he rides into the river on a horse. He grabs at Viola and the boat capsizes. As they float away, we see the man hold an animal under the water to drown it; Todd angrily throws a knife from tree to tree; A man attacks Viola; A man hits another man with the but of his gun; We see the man attacking Viola and throwing her around. She uses a device that engulfs him in flames and he dissipates; A man shoots another man, wounding him; Todd slash’s at a man’s leg with a knife. As he runs away, he is shot; A man throws around and hits another man; A woman hits a man with a big stick and he falls off the edge of a cliff into darkness.