This review contains spoilers for Chaos Walking.
Novel-to-film adaptations can be tricky. You’re adapting an item that has an established audience. It can go horribly wrong like Eragon, or great like Harry Potter. In the case of Chaos Walking, it goes horribly wrong. Directed by Doug Liman and featuring an all-star cast, the film certainly has promise at first glance. In this world, women can hide their thoughts while men cannot. With an interesting concept like that, there’s an opportunity for a very nuanced look at how this can affect society. Instead, we gloss over that fact and proceed down a convoluted road that wastes incredible potential.
First things first, the cinematography and editing are atrocious. There are several instances of off-putting focus, where instead of focusing on the scenery in front of a character, we instead end up focusing on the back of their head while blurring the scenery. Several action sequences feature intense motion blur, which leaves some scenes so blurry it was hard to tell what was going on. For some people, some subtle motion with the camera will help put them in the scene. However, Chaos Walking‘s attempt left me nauseous walking out of the theater.
The film’s plot moves in leaps and bounds, between staggering moments of albeit charismatic leads in Viola (Daisy Ridley) and Todd (Tom Holland). Both are the best of what the film has, though the characterization for Todd I didn’t appreciate. I can’t imagine dealing with a man behind me thinking everything about kissing me, my hair, what I looked like. It’s slightly understandable to a point, as Todd’s only seen women in pictures. But at what point does the game of life or death get serious enough to where you don’t obsess over a girl to the point of imagining making out with her and she has to see that imagery?
Another problem lies in the film’s antagonist, David Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen). It’s bad enough that the film wastes a talent as strong as Mikkelsen. It’s even more egregious to know that David is so uncompelling. He blames the Spackle, the indigenous species of The New World, for the women being eliminated from Prentisstown, when he actually leads the men along with the preacher Aaron (David Oyelowo) to kill the women of the town because they have no noise, which to them indicates they have no soul. Which, the film does not explore until about halfway through the film, and the explanation relies solely on about 5 minutes in the film.
To have such a traditional plot point of blaming an issue on another race/species, and then not present said species when it reveals the true villain is absolutely frustrating. Prentiss promotes a kill first nature in the men of Prentisstown, and Todd showcases this throughout Chaos Walking, including in the one encounter with the Spackle shown in the film, only backing off when Viola yells at him. How would you not explore that reaction, bring the confrontation back when Todd has all the details? Truly a missed opportunity. Because there was absolutely no need for the Spackle as is in the film.
Prentiss’s death falls flat because of that. Todd holds back because he doesn’t want to be killed first anymore, at the moment that he really needs to be. Sure, Todd overcomes the haunting of his past as he realizes the story people told him is a lie. At the same time, it doesn’t feel like the pay-off point for the film. Well. There’s really no payoff point, but that’s beside the point. It underdevelops every character, and there’s nothing tying you to them in the slightest. There’s no emotion in this film besides moments tied to animals dying, and most of those moments seriously border on the abuse side.
Chaos Walking has elements of an overall world-building effort given to it. But it falls to the qualms of novel adaptations that try to build for a sequel when a sequel hasn’t been greenlit yet. There are many things wrong with this film, with good leads making the best with what they have. I’ve never walked out of a theater disliking a movie as much as I did with Chaos Walking. This is not the movie to go back to theaters for. – Katie Rentschler
Chaos Walking is in theaters now. The film stars Daisy Ridley, Tom Holland, Mads Mikkelsen, and Nick Jonas.
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