I don’t know why we’re still adapting mediocre Young Adult book series to film now that The Hunger Games and Divergent have long since passed, but I guess the filmmakers didn’t get the memo.
Based on the first book in the Chaos Walking trilogy of sci-fi novels, The Knife of Never Letting Go by Ness, Chaos Walking is set on an alien planet in a far off future where only men have survived a terrible Civil War with the native alien species of the planet. Effectively reducing their population to barely sustainable levels as well as losing the entirety of the female members of their community simultaneously, the remaining men are struck with a condition known as “Noise” which allows everyone within a few feet radius to quite literally hear their inner thoughts, see their mental images and communicate via what is more or less an out in the open form of telepathy. Following a young man named Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland) as he comes across a crash landed spaceship of unknown origin, Todd meets up with the first female he has ever seen, Viola (Daisy Ridley), and decides to help protect her from the local residents, but also guide her to safety in the hopes that secrets can be revealed about Noise, the world they are living on and why Viola is the first girl to have been seen in what seems like an eternity.
Having never read the books this film is based on (I had no idea this was adapted from a book series to begin with actually), Chaos Walking’s initial hook isn’t a terrible one, and is an idea that feels right at home within the confines of Hollywood. From the fun visual representation of Noise that sees little colorful energy waves move and spread out in unspecific patterns as the person “speaking” with their mind talks, to some great casting in the form of the always lovable Tom Holland and his surrounding cast mates, this movie has a lot going for it, but ends up being something unworthy of the talent involved.
Hinging the film on a book series that comes across as being derivative and not entirely developed, the script isn’t all that special in a sense that it seems more concerned with the idea of itself rather than the actual execution of it. To be fair, there are some fun scenes that utilize the idea of Noise well (again Tom Holland just being his great self here), but with only a handful of exciting yet forgettable action beats and some storytelling that just doesn’t feel full enough, this film is all kinds of shades of “meh” when it really comes down to it.
And while Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley are probably the biggest draws of this film, everything feels so out of place around them that I had a hard time focusing on what this film was actually about. Is it a commentary on how society crumbles without the female element? A thoughtful story on how our inner thoughts clash with our outer ones? Or is it just some dull popcorn entertainment that was supposed to start a new hot franchise that would go on to make sequels and money hand over fist? Regardless, none of these ideas actually come to fruition in a movie that would have faired far worse without the talent attached, the casting the only real reason to stay in your seats throughout.
All that being said, Chaos Walking isn’t a travesty, it’s just undercooked, underwhelming and – outside of a few entertaining spots – forgettable. I do like me some Tom Holland (as literally everyone on the planet should), but his usual charm and awkwardness isn’t enough to save a film that probably didn’t need to be made. I don’t think this one will get the sequel it clearly wants, and that’s fine by me.