Following many years in development limbo, Chaos Walking finally hits streaming services in the UK this week. First announced back in 2011, the film didn’t begin production until 2016, in which it was hit by a two-year delay due to reshoots. Based on Patrick Ness’ 2008 best-selling YA novel The Knife of Never Letting Go, which is the first part of the Chaos Walking trilogy, the film features a star-studded cast lead by franchise hitters, Avengers’ Tom Holland and Star Wars’ Daisy Ridley. But can the film break free from the extensive delays and endless setbacks?
Directed by Doug Liman (The Bourne series and Edge of Tomorrow) Chaos Walking centres on a distant planet known as New World in the year 2257 A.D. Viola (Daisy Ridley) crash lands and finds herself on a mysterious planet where all the male settlers are afflicted by ‘the Noise’ and the women have mysteriously disappeared. This overpowering force puts their thoughts on display for all to hear, initially disorientating Viola, who’s sudden appearance attracts deadly attention. However Todd (Tom Holland) vows to help her travel across the dangerous landscape in the hopes of reuniting her with her Colony.
Chaos Walking is in an intriguing concept; the futuristic, sci-fi elements are interwoven throughout an dystopian action-adventure as the central pair team up on a journey across the treacherous New World. Whilst battling against the planet’s ecosystem and inhabitants, the duo are relentlessly pursued by the town’s mayor Prentiss and his violent preacher in a cat-and-mouse chase. Liman does a good job introducing a gripping narrative with a captivating central mystery, along with building a whole new World, however it does feel as if the director is laying the groundwork for a potential franchise which unfortunately might not happen.
There’s a number of aspects which are briefly touched upon, but could certainly strengthen the narrative if explored further. The backstory is only really hinted at, leaving a lot of questions unanswered; such as how they ended on the planet in the first place, the war with other clans and the indigenous species, (known as the Spackle), what happened to the women etc. You really have to pay attention throughout the film, otherwise blink and you’ll miss it, with breadcrumbs smattered throughout the dialogue. Perhaps this is due to the sound design of the Noise and how difficult it is to understand, particularly when there’s a large crowd of men. We also only briefly get a glimpse at the more exciting aspects such as an underwater battle with what appears to be a giant squid, along with a single showdown between Todd and a Spackle.
However, the sweet dynamic between leads Holland and Ridley more than make up for the shortcomings of the film. The cast certainly is the biggest draw for me, and particularly following Cherry, it’s interesting to see the two step away from their respective blockbuster franchises. Holland does indeed bring his signature Peter Parker awkwardness to the role, with much of the humour resulting from his obvious feelings towards Viola, but there’s also an endearing determination to prove that he can protect Viola. Ridley once again plays a strong female lead, often helping and encouraging Todd throughout their journey. The bond they develop is certainly one of the strongest aspects of the film, and you more than anything wish for them to make it through.
Unfortunately a number of the supporting cast, particularly Mads Mikkelsen and David Oyelowo, are disappointingly underused. Anyone who’s watched Hannibal knows Mikkelsen excels at playing a layered and complicated villain, yet he’s not awarded enough screen time to fully flesh out and explore the real motivations of the intriguing and power hungry Mayor. Meanwhile Oyelowo’s violent preacher is another of the more interesting characters, yet woefully underdeveloped, coming across as merely the out and out avenging villain.
The film is well shot with numerous action sequences unfolding in stunning locations; here Liman brings his Bourne expertise with a number of choppy and gripping chases which predominantly take place on horse back. The Noise is also fantastically adapted to screen, with an impressive visual flair, as different individual’s visualisations are cleverly personalised. Todd’s signature noise is surprisingly powerful and he can weaponise it into various forms like a snake, while Mayor Prentiss’ noise in an ethereal blue spiral which he can use to fence around people. The Preacher’s noise is most well realised, it’s swarming and flaming aspect carries a certain violence to it. However I do feel like I need to warn viewers that there are instances of animal injury which are upsetting.
Chaos Walking is a fascinating but flawed dystopian adventure, with a fantastic central dynamic between leads Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley elevating the script. However this feels like it was just the beginning to a more expansive universe, which unfortunately might be left untold. Thankfully Mad’s does get some time in the spotlight in his stunning coat! Overall, the film definitely feels like it fits in with similar YA adaptations such as The Divergent series and The Maze Runner, which unfortunately have long since sailed.
Chaos Walking is available for premium rental at home on all digital platforms from 2nd April.