Movies like Chaos Walking are a delicate undertaking. Adapting a series of books into a movie is often a daunting task. As anyone who has seen many Stephen King adaptations can attest; plot complexity, characters, and depth are removed in order to condense the story into a two-hour or less run time.
The rise of streaming services has allowed many books to be adapted into series without having to cut much of the adult content in the books which would make it difficult for network television.
The film is based on a series of books and stars Tom Holland as Todd, a young man living on a distant world where there are no women and people can hear and see each other’s thoughts by a process known as “Noise”.
Their rustic colony is run with a firm hand by their Mayor (Mads Mikkelsen); who keeps those around him from seeing his thoughts which gives him a big advantage over those who rule. When a landing craft from a mothership filled with a new wave of colonists crashes on the planet, Todd is shocked to find that the only survivor is a woman named Viola (Daisy Ridley), whose arrival disrupts the community. The Mayor sees the arrival of new individuals as a threat to his power. He tries to keep Viola from contacting her ship, and hopes to seize it when they land to look for her.
Todd and Viola escape, trying to reach a distant colony where she hopes to find a way to warn her ship about the danger the Mayor and his men present, who in turn pursue the duo to keep this from happening.
The film lightly touches on the native race that Todd believes killed all the women of their colony, but they are not visited save for a brief appearance. It is clear that the Mayor is hiding something and the reveal of what and why is fairly underwhelming, which reduces him and most of his followers to thinly developed stock characters.
There is also the mystery as to why the mothership does not bother to do any sort of follow up when they do not hear from their lander. That’s one of the big weak points of the story line, and it requires the audience to simply go along with things and not ask too many questions to make things work.
Thankfully the two leads are interesting enough to hold attention even when pacing slows, with scene after scene of rivers, woods, and a little conversation.
One big issue with the film is the film’s conceit of of the Noise. The visualization of thoughts as well as hearing them mixed in with verbal communication can get very confusing. It’s like trying to track multiple voices in a crowded room, or being on social media and trying to participate in four different conversations at the same time.
Despite the issues, the potential is there, and I found myself wondering what was next for the characters and hoping that they do adapt future books in the series. While the film on its own does not work as a fully developed story, as an introduction to the series it does enough to peak audience interest for more.
The story of the Chaos Walking movie is based on the first book in Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking trilogy, The Knife of Never Letting Go, which was released in 2008. The novel was followed up by The Ask and the Answer in 2009 and Monsters of Men in 2010. Ness further expanded the world of Chaos Walking with three short stories, one released in 2009 and with two more following in 2013 that offered additional insight into the series’ sci-fi setting and characters.
Chaos Walking stars Tom Holland and Daisey Ridley, and releases March 5, 2021 from Lionsgate.
3.5 out of 5
Gareth is the mastermind behind the popular pop media site Skewed and Reviewed. He lives in Arizona with his wife Em McBride.