Remember that cutaway gag in Family Guy where Peter starts narrating his life out loud? Imagine that stretched out to an hour and fifty minutes. Now imagine it wasn’t just Peter doing this, but all the males in Quahog. Now imagine the Family Guy cast was replaced with characters who only think about exposition and the various things they see. Oh, and instead of speaking their thoughts, it’s conveyed through an echoing inner monologue and a weird wavy effect, both of which grow obnoxious quickly. That’s Chaos Walking in a nutshell. So, sadly nothing like Family Guy.
Tom Holland is Tom Hewitt, a young man from a distant planet in the not-too-distant future. Of course, much of this alien world just looks like Quebec on a dreary day. Tom lives in a settlement populated by men where their thoughts are displayed through a force called “the Noise.” Everything Tom knows is called into question when a young woman named Viola (Daisy Ridley) crash lands. As the village seeks to capture Viola, Todd decides to help her escape because… she has pretty hair? Eh, fair enough. Setting out into a perilous terrain, Todd and Viola begin to unravel the secrets being silenced.
Chaos Walking has endured one of the most troubled production histories of recent memory. The film’s release was delayed multiple times and not just due to COVID. Long before the pandemic hit, extensive reshoots were ordered when the first cut was reportedly described as “unreleasable” by Lionsgate executives. I’d like to announce everything came together in the end, but this isn’t at all the case. While the film is far more watchable than reports led us to believe, the characters are cookie-cutter, the dialogue is dull, and the behind the scenes problems remain evident throughout.
Chaos Walking is an unfortunate failure. On paper, the right pieces seemed to be in place. Holland and Ridley are two of our most promising young talents. While they give solid performances here, they are looking a tad old to be teenagers. The supporting cast includes other gifted performers Mads Mikkelsen, Demián Bichir, Cynthia Erivo, and David Oyelowo. Director Doug Liman’s credits range from The Bourne Identity to Edge of Tomorrow, rarely misfiring. The film is also based on an award-winning novel, which admittedly remains unread by me. Watching the film, however, I sensed this potentially intruding premise belonged on the printed page.
Inner monologues are commonplace in literature, which complements this story’s world. Film is a visual medium, meaning show don’t tell. So, every time somebody states the obvious (often repeatedly), the audience can’t help but collectively shout at the screen, “Duh, we know!” To be fair, I don’t know how this idea could’ve been translated to film. At the very least, though, it could’ve been executed with a less formulaic plot and a more interesting visual style.
Having a window into a person’s head should make leeway for a lot of creative possibilities. Yet, most of the effects, particularly “the Noise,” look like something any armature filmmaker could cook up on iMovie. Even with reshoots and an A-list cast, the $100 budget is baffling. Poor effects aside, the audience doesn’t need telepathy to figure out who’s going to be a villain, who’s going to die, and the big conspiracy our heroes are trying to uncover. Chaos Walking plays out like every would-be YA franchise-starter, which feels at least seven years behind the times. Like The 5th Wave, I Am Number Four, and the third Divergent, there are clear aspirations for a sequel. You’re probably better off hiding your Noise and reading the book, though.
Chaos Walking opens in theaters exclusively on March 5th.