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‘Chaos Walking’ Review: The Good and the Bad

Doug Liman’s latest feature comes after a strenuous four years in the making. Based on the Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness, the film adapts the first book of the series, The Knife of Never Letting Go. As a fan of the books, I was curious to see how the story would transpire on the big screen.

Chaos Walking takes place on a foreign planet, known as “The New World,” which has been conquered by humans. Prentisstown, ruled by the corrupt Mayor (Mads Mikkelsen), is an all-male community where every man’s thoughts are visible and heard in what is called “the Noise.” There are no women left in the world — they were allegedly slaughtered during a war against the native species. However, when the youngest boy in town, Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland), comes across a mysterious spacecraft, he meets Viola (Daisy Ridley), the only survivor of the crash and the first girl Todd’s ever seen. Once Todd informs the Mayor about the ship, Viola becomes an immediate target of the Mayor. The only way she can survive long enough to send a signal to her home ship is by teaming up with Todd and fleeing the town.

Todd, Manchee, and Viola | Lionsgate

If you were obsessed with dystopian franchises, then this film feels nostalgic. After so long, entering an era of cinema that faded feels like a fever dream; however, it wasn’t played out too well. At one point, Lionsgate deemed this movie as “unreleasable.” Ouch. After that absolutely painful comment, Liman gathered the cast and crew to film extensive reshoots in 2019, which were excruciatingly noticeable in the movie.

There were plenty of issues with pacing — at times, especially in the final act, the story felt rushed. Too much was going on at once, and everything moved very fast, which is not a good thing. Also, some of the most significant moments in the film were anticlimactic. One of the most gratifying scenes in the book turned out to be a complete letdown in the movie.

The main point of criticism here is the fact that the plot deliberately exhibits misogyny. It’s clear that when Viola shows up, the men feel threatened and aim to get rid of her. At first, the idea of a woman arriving in a town full of men who haven’t encountered a woman in years, or maybe ever, is alarming. However, none of them behave too sickening. Todd’s obvious infatuation with Viola is played off as young love — all he wants to do is kiss her and tell her how pretty she is. How cute.

Todd, Viola, and Manchee fleeing on a boat | Lionsgate

Now, on to the positives. I went into this film with low expectations, but I was pleasantly surprised with the outcome. It’s not as bad as I thought it would be, which is a bonus. The performances of each actor were great, especially Mikkelsen, Holland, and Ridley. They did the best they could with what they were given, and that’s all one could hope for. Their portrayals, in my opinion, were book accurate. Other aspects of the film, not so much.

The portrayal of the Noise was fascinating. At times, yes, it could be overwhelming; however, that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be so I think everyone did a terrific job on the depiction.

There isn’t much diversity in this film — the cast is primarily white men, with the occasional female or person of color. Yes, the main character is a female, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that this film doesn’t portray representation and inclusivity in the film industry adequately.

I would love to see the rest of the trilogy performed cinematically, but I doubt that will happen. It all depends on if the film is a commercial success, and Lionsgate and the cast want to return for more.

Chaos Walking hit theaters Friday, March 5th. The film is rated PG-13 for violence and language.

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