Minor Chaos Walking spoilers follow.
The excitement leading up to Chaos Walking's release — which is out now in the UK — has been a mix of genuine and contrary, a sort of anticipatory schadenfreude. News of massive reshoots and edits, constant delays, and the knowledge of Doug Liman's chaotic (yeah we said it) directing style made for what everyone assumed would be a car crash.
The first trailer for the movie, which features two A-list stars in Daisy Ridley and Tom Holland, did nothing to alleviate fears. Gone was the glimmer of hope that somehow, despite the rumours and suspicions, Chaos Walking would turn out to be okay.
When reviews appeared, it seemed like everyone's fears were realised. Criticisms ranged from being labelled "just a snooze" to "ultra-bland", with one critic even recalling Macbeth — "full of sound and fury, signifying nothing" (see what they did there?). Most of the praise was given to the premise, which comes from the first book of a YA novel trilogy of the same name.
It is a thought-provoking premise: in the not-too-distant future, Todd Hewitt (Holland) discovers Viola (Ridley), a mysterious girl who crash lands on his planet, where all the women have disappeared and the men are afflicted by 'the Noise' – a force that puts all their thoughts on display. In this dangerous landscape, Viola's life is threatened – and as Todd vows to protect her, he will have to discover his own inner power and unlock the planet's dark secrets.
Yes, in a lot of ways Chaos Walking is as bad as even some of the harshest reviews claim. It is a haphazard movie that doesn't give enough time or space to the things that need exploration.
What Chaos Walking proved is that a great premise does not a great film make. It's easy to see how this could be explored in a novel, without the practical necessity of making thoughts 'appear' in a literal way. The movie makes good use of this metaphorical tool only occasionally, without giving enough time to explaining the mechanics in a way that's engaging.
However, once the movie stops worrying about the backstory and strained relationships of its peripheral characters — while we all revel in watching Mads Mikkelsen play an omnipotent mayor with a zeal for violence — and lets Ridley and Holland take over, the film is quite engrossing. What it becomes, then, is an exploration of the relationship between two people when power is entirely unbalanced.
This is a far more interesting world to explore than the planet they're on. It successfully flips the power dynamic inherent in our patriarchal society, without resorting to tired 'girl boss' tropes or 'girl power' punchlines.
This is no more apparent than with the introduction of Cynthia Erivo as Hildy, the mayor of another settlement in which men and women live in harmony. She is not in power simply because she is able to hear men's thoughts, but because she's an effective, fair and just leader — the opposite of Mikkelsen's David.
Extrapolating it further, Chaos Walking poses the question: what is the true self? Is it every single unfiltered thought we have? Or is it the better angels of our nature, the thoughts we choose to put into action? The movie seems to settle on the answer as being the latter.
However, these questions and the power dynamics between men and women aren't explored well enough throughout the rest of the film, which resorts to more by-the-book dystopian conflict. But that would rely on a real deep empathy with either Todd or Viola — ideally both — that the movie never quite manages to elicit.
What this means, though, is that while Chaos Walking isn't as bad as the reviews say it is, it never rises to the occasion and answers the very questions it cleverly poses either.
Digital Spy's digital magazine is back! Read every issue now with a 1-month free trial, only on Apple News+.
Interested in Digital Spy's weekly newsletter? Sign up to get it sent straight to your inbox – and don't forget to join our Watch This Facebook Group for daily TV recommendations and discussions with other readers.
You Might Also Like