The narrow, orderly focus trips up ‘Chaos Walking’

Tom Holland is rightfully enjoying massive success in the movie biz these days.

Hear!  Hear!

Holland, 24, easily fits into the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Spider-man, but he’s not just a red-and-blue superhero.  He’s starred in other big-studio films, like “In the Heart of the Sea” (2015), “The Lost City of Z” (2016), “Onward” (2020), and “The Devil All the Time” (2020).

His characters handle themselves just fine when saving humanity or diving into a one-on-one scrap, and his friendly bravado translates into real-life.

Holland is a certified star, but no one ever labeled him as the strong, silent type, especially when he’s known for giving away an MCU secret or two before the films are released.  Frankly, that’s a little unfair.  Still, loose lips sink ships.

In “Chaos Walking”, his character Todd Hewitt gives away secrets as frequently as he breathes.  You see, throughout the day, his inner thoughts radiate out loud – from the top of his head – like a crazy radio frequency, accompanied by a bluish, purplish mist that also projects the objects from his inner self-talk and into the world.

For example, my constant internal-wish for coffee 24/7 would audibly project “I want coffee,” or “I need to start another pot,” – along with an image of a hot cup of Joe or a French press – into my current space.  During the COVID lockdown over the past year, this means my living room, dining room, or kitchen.

So, Todd’s wild gift might seem benign, but what about a life-or-death secret?

“The nuclear launch code is 94-33-22-001”

Yikes!  For Todd, his circumstances aren’t that dire, but thinking-speaking, “I like her hair.  She’s pretty,” to a woman – he just met – can lead to red-faced embarrassment.

Todd’s gift is called his “noise”, and it is literally out of this world in director Doug Liman’s science fiction picture.  Todd’s heritage may be from Earth, but he was born on New World, and currently, the year is 2257 A.D.

Not just Todd, but every man on New World possesses this noise, but women don’t have this bizarre attribute.  To every girlfriend, fiancée, or wife who wishes that their boyfriend, fiancé, or husband would communicate more effectively, well, this could be your solution.  Right?

Maybe not.

Anyway, life on New World, for the most part, resembles Earth, and Liman’s crew filmed in Quebec, and thankfully in the summer.  Life isn’t chock full of Star Trek technology, as Todd’s home is Prentisstown, a farming community with little creature comforts.  A hot shower is an impossible dream, as the town resembles something out of “Little House on the Prairie”.

Only men live in Prentisstown, but that will immediately change.  Viola (Daisy Ridley) is the only survivor on a new ship, actually a capsule, that crash lands on the planet.  Viola eventually finds her way into Todd’s village, and he’s never met a girl before, so trust becomes an issue.  She doesn’t have noise.  Mayor Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen) sees her as a threat, so Todd and Viola bolt (mostly on foot) through a deciduous forest and towards the nearby town of Farbranch.

On the surface, “Chaos Walking” – starring Spider-man and Star Wars icons – is a sci-fi action picture set on another planet over 100 years in the future.  That’s a heck of a marketing campaign, especially with 20-somethings Holland and Ridley as the leads!

The on-screen reality, however, falls short.  Liman and his team open our hearts and minds into vast concepts within this science fiction world, but we only experience a small portion of them.  For instance, Viola’s ship travels an ungodly number of years (which will not be revealed in this review) to reach New World, but we only experience her crash landing.  Several settlements could dot this planet, but Prentisstown and Farbranch are the only ones that appear.  What else is out there?  New World humans ride horses, but we discover that these stallions and mares aren’t indigenous to this planet.  They were transported from home, so what other animals in this Noah’s ark traveled from Earth?

A native New World species called the Spackle looks quite intimidating (at about 8-feet tall) and lives nearby, but we only see one being for about three minutes of screen time.

The point is that “Chaos Walking” – with a limited runtime of 98 minutes – reduces the scope of this massive science fiction universe to a fairly routine on-foot chase picture through the woods.  It feels like an ordinary western, as Todd and Viola search for food, climb up several buttes and hills, and even get caught in river rapids, which brings back thoughts of the Jimmy Stewart, Janet Leigh western “The Naked Spur” (1953).  This movie, of course, has a giant alien, and every thought in our male protagonist’s head – verbally and visually – projects within the immediate vicinity.

It’s frustrating, but “Chaos Walking” is based on a series of young adult books by Patrick Ness, who also co-wrote the screenplay.  There’s a whole lot of story out there, and the material would be better suited for a 10-part series rather than a dialed-down feature film.

To make it work, one also has to suspend disbelief, like Viola’s capsule crash lands about a mile or two from Prentisstown, and the chances are about as remote as an asteroid landing in my backyard.  (I’m knocking on wood, by the way.)   Our big-screen pair also reach an abandoned ship.  It’s been there for decades, but its electronics still function quite well.  That must be one resilient Duracell battery.  Another technological introduction appears in the third act, but out of the blue with all the convenience and magic of an arriving Amazon package after ordering it just minutes before.

Yes, to squeeze the narrative into this feature, the scope and some sci-fi logic were slashed.  Still, Holland, Ridley, Mikkelsen, Demian Bichir, David Oyelowo, Nick Jonas, Liman, and his team give it their best within the narrow construct.

Well, I wouldn’t mind seeing a “Chaos Walking” series someday.  That’s my thought, and I hope that someone hears it.

⭐⭐  out of   ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Image credits: Lionsgate; Trailer credits: Movieclips Trailers

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