Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Chaos Walking

Spoiler-free!

After two years on the shelf, Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley's team up to adapt yet another dystopian YA novel has seen the light of day. It's about a planet that makes men's thoughts appear as visible and audible fogs of color around their heads, called The Noise. And what happens when the first girl (Ridley) in Todd's (Holland) lifetime shows up, throwing their futuristic wild west town into, uh, chaos.

Actually, "Chaos Walking" is a pretty good description of the film itself. 

The YA dystopia phase was deftly put into its grave by the last effort of the Maze Runner series, The Death Cure, limping across the finish line before the race, as it were, was shut down for good. This film's producers, and director Doug Liman, though, didn't get the memo. Although to be fair they started shooting before The Death Cure was released. And it was probably wise of them to shelve it for a while, so people could forget how tired they were of the genre. Now, it feels like a throwback. Remember when Tom Holland was on top of the world? Remember when people thought Daisy Ridley might actually have a career? Remember when making a movie based on a series of books meant that sequels might get made? 

On one hand I feel like Chaos Walking would have been better off rotting on the shelf. On the other, I've always enjoyed these types of films, no matter how bad they get, and I was tickled by this flick every bit as much as I was annoyed. And boy, was I annoyed! You might be able to imagine how grating it'd be to constantly see and hear every thought of every person around you; if you watch this movie, you don't have to imagine anymore! I can't think of a better way to portray this gimmick myself, but I certainly wouldn't have tried to adapt it if this was my best solution. It's distracting. It's cluttering. It's rarely interesting, or useful. It just makes the thing a mess. I imagine it worked easily on page. I wish it had been considered more carefully in the planning stages of this film.

I feel like the story could have worked without it except for one big detail, but it is the main memorable aspect at the same time. Mostly it gets in the way. 

Besides that, the script reads a lot like you'd expect from a film banking on the success of the Maze Runner series. It's clearly a gutted version of its book counterpart, breezing over explanations and leaving confusion in its wake. All while never allowing scenes to breathe, settle, or be toned into something rich. It's action scenes and exposition scenes layered together. The action holds the most interest as they have a similar kinetic energy to The Maze Runner, and the world they take place in allows for a few creative set pieces. (I'm always on board for on-the-run adventures!) Often the exposition holds back too much, rendering itself unnecessary. Characters are cardboard-level quality, painted colorfully as a distraction. You can tell many of them served a purpose in the book—who can tell what that may have been from this.

It's the cast that does most of the leg work in selling the story. Tom Holland's try-hard attitude is admirable, but sheer willpower cannot make him become the character, Todd; he's always just Tom Holland, playing some kid in a movie. The action is his greater strength, and he sells that even harder. Daisy Ridley has literally nothing to work with in terms of character, but I don't imagine she'd have given it much more than a pretty face in an ugly wig making big eyes at everything anyway. Star Wars is over, and so is she. The supporting cast is a skilled bunch and though they don't try particularly hard, they bring out memorability in their characters. Mads Mikkelsen, Cynthia Erivo... Nick Jonas (Haha just kidding!) and particularly David Oyelowo, who's a wonderfully intimidating character that ends in underwhelming disappointment.

Clearly Tom's trying to prove himself as Nathan Drake here, but what's Daisy gunning for? Leeloo in some secret lumberjack remake of The Fifth Element?

And speaking of disappointment, that's what I was expecting from this movie, and little more. But the thing about disappointment is, you can't be disappointed unless there are hopes of good to be let down. Chaos Walking provides both the hope, and the potential, and then the disappointment in turn. I could easily dismiss it as a too-little-to-late addition to a dead genre and leave it at that, but the fact is I genuinely liked some of the bones beneath the chaos. And while that's a solid positive, it's sadly a positive that only results in deeper disappointment.

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