Chaos Walking

***

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Chaos Walking
"The high concept - that the thoughts of everyone on the dystopian New World appear as a cloud of "noise" about their head - does, ironically, take some getting your head around." | Photo: Lionsgate

This high-concept sci-fi-meets-western - based on the first of Patrick Ness' young adult Chaos Walking trilogy The Knife Of Letting Go - will be best enjoyed if you come at it from the perspective of the young adult target market that its 12 certificate is aimed at as although many of the beats will be familiar to those who've seen The Hunger Games or similar franchises, there's enough difference here and a decent dollop of latent romance and adventure to attract a younger audience.

The high concept - that the thoughts of everyone on the dystopian New World appear as a cloud of "noise" about their head - does, ironically, take some getting your head around, especially when viewing this on the small screen as most are likely to do at the moment. If you're trying to imagine it, remember the cloud of dust that always hangs around Pigpen in Peanuts? This is like that, only with a bit more CGI slickness, clinging to people's heads.

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Tom Holland does a good job of selling the concept as young Todd. He lives in a sort of frontier town, named Prentissville, ruled by a mayor (Mads Mikkelsen – at the opposite end of the spectrum to his turn in the Oscar-nominated Another Round). We can tell he is malevolent, not only by the fact that he is the mayor - a cast iron indicator of these things - but also because he can control his noise and is, inexplicably, sporting what amounts to a furry pimp coat.

When a spaceship carrying Viola (Daisy Ridley) crash lands, she becomes the only girl in town - more on which will be revealed through the course of the film. Todd sets out to help her, of course, and there's some fun to be had that his thoughts can be read by her while the same is not true in reverse. There's some nice moments - him stripping off oblivious to her, for example, and even some thoughtful stuff concerning memories and the way they linger in our minds. It's not just Todd who has trouble controlling "the noise", there's also a sense of the writers not being sure how to use it consistently, although it will be quite amusing on some level for women in the audience to see how base they seem to think all men's thinking is all of the time. Todd, of course, imagines kissing Viola and the 'innocence' of this is justified by the fact that he has never encountered a girl before. Holland and Ridley have good chemistry and put in the energy to sell this central relationship which has just enough will they/won't they about it without becoming predictable.

Other elements of the film are, at best, perfunctory - perhaps a result of it having had its own chaotic route to screen, involving a number of writers (including Charlie Kaufman, who one imagines would have served up something considerably more bleak) and reshoots. The aliens on the planet pop up for no reason at all other than to prove their existence - presumably with sequels in mind - and David Oyelowo's preacher is particularly badly served beyond the fact that his fire and brimstone noise has the best CGI in town. Cynthia Erivo also feels wasted in little more than a cameo, although she too was possibly attracted by the potential for future sequels. Also, people fighting with tentacled creatures on film has never and, potentially, will never look good - and even Liman, who has a solid handle more generally on the film's action sequences, pushes it a fair way into the background in the hopes we won't notice.

If the film's intellectual potential is ultimately under-explored - and the level of animal peril decidedly high - this is nevertheless a watchable if flawed adventure buoyed by its central cast.

Reviewed on: 02 Apr 2021
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On a dystopian futuristic planet, all men's thoughts appear as "noise" around their heads... a problem for young Todd when he runs across a space girl.

Director: Doug Liman

Writer: Patrick Ness, Christopher Ford, based on the novel by Patrick Ness

Starring: Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, Mads Mikkelsen, Demián Bichir, David Oyelowo, Kurt Sutter, Cynthia Erivo, Bethany Anne Lind, Nick Jonas, Ray McKinnon

Year: 2021

Runtime: 109 minutes

BBFC: 12 - Age Restricted

Country: US, Canada, Hong Kong

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