Review: ‘Chaos Walking’ is a boring crawl that muddies its source material


Courtesy of Lionsgate

When Viola Eade (Daisy Ridley, not pictured) lands on a planet where all the men’s thoughts are on display – a force called “the Noise” – Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland, right) vows to protect her in CHAOS WALKING.

Natalie Duerr, news staff

Audiences have finally gotten to watch the long-awaited “Chaos Walking” film, and it was not worth the wait. Initially slated to be released in March 2019, “Chaos Walking” was plagued by reshoots and negative test screenings that stalled its release for two years. The film adapts a book trilogy of the same name written by Patrick Ness into a measly one-hour 40-minute runtime. Even the star-studded cast of Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, Nick Jonas, Mads Mikkelsen and Cynthia Erivo couldn’t save it from a crash landing. “Chaos Walking” drags its feet through the book’s least exciting aspects and manages to lose everything that made the trilogy so fantastic. 

The rights to the book were initially purchased in 2011 by Lionsgate, around the same time the highly successful “Harry Potter” and “Twilight” franchises were coming to an end. Every studio was looking to snap up the next big young adult novel to turn into a highly successful film franchise — “Chaos Walking” looked like that opportunity.

The story is a typical dystopian narrative, following Todd as he discovers the true history of the world he inhabits. A few things make Todd’s environment different from ours — everyone can see your thoughts through “Noise,” and women do not exist. It isn’t until Todd finds a crashed rocket ship that he realizes things may not be as they seem. The lone survivor of the crash, a girl named Viola, and Todd run away from Prentisstown together to keep her safe from the dangerous Mayor Prentiss.

“Chaos Walking” as a trilogy had everything an adaptation needed to succeed — intriguing characters, fantastic world-building and interwoven real-world issues. It is hard to understand how its film adaptation could turn into such a mess.

Before a trailer was even released, the casting announcement of Tom Holland as Todd and Daisy Ridley as Viola felt like a misstep for anyone familiar with the source material. Casting older actors to play teens is nothing new,  but pretending that Holland can pass off as a “boy” is egregious. Todd’s boyhood and presumed innocence are a massive pillar of his character. When he makes a mistake or acts naive in the book, it is easy to accept that this is how a 13 year old would react. In the film version, Holland looks over 20, and the character just seems foolish.

On top of that, both actors have already had their breakout roles in Disney franchises. This makes it hard to separate them from their more well-known counterparts, especially as Ridley plays a space orphan again. There is one scene where they descend into a spacecraft ruin by climbing down a rope, which is a literal sequence from Ridley’s “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” The film would have benefitted from casting younger actors who could have grown into older versions of the characters for a sequel.

The film also seems to ignore many of the main themes that made the novels feel relevant. The book layers in discussions of toxic masculinity, colonization, the cost of war and living with trauma. As books aimed at a younger audience, it is pretty impressive that Ness could cover so much ground while still crafting a suspenseful series.

Instead, the film is a shallow dive into these topics with throw-away lines hinting at what could have been. It changes critical character development moments to advance the story but leaves the characters flat. There isn’t a moment for things to soak in for the viewer or the characters themselves, making it seem like no one grew from this journey.

The one praise for this film is its visual effects. The visualization of the “Noise” phenomenally translates what could have been a cheesy gimmick on screen. And while the screenplay may end up relying too heavily on it, this visualization is something special that the books could have never had. 

“Chaos Walking” was not only a dud with fans, but also couldn’t build up enough steam to attract a general audience. With a budget of around $100 million and just $21 million in the worldwide box office, it has been a total bomb for the studio. Maybe in 10 years, someone will be brave enough to give the books the adaptation they deserve.

“Chaos Walking” is now in theatres and available to rent on all platforms.