Chaos Walking

 

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On a distant planet there is nowhere to hide when one’s thoughts speak for themselves. The thought police are everywhere and it’s a dangerous place for Tom Holland…

 
Chaos Walking

A penny for his thoughts: Daisy Ridley tries to ignore the mental chatter of Tom Holland

   

The title needs a bit of explanation. An opening quotation states: “The noise is a man’s thoughts unfiltered. And without a filter a man is just chaos walking.” It could have been worse. The novel on which Doug Liman’s futuristic metaphysical sci-fi Western is based is actually called The Knife of Never Letting Go. And it’s all about the cacophony of people’s thoughts emanating unchecked from their brains. It’s the first in a trilogy by Patrick Ness, with a triplet of short stories thrown in for good measure. Ness, whose A Monster Calls was filmed in 2016, is a prolific practitioner of young adult fiction and has adapted his own novel for the ‘big’ screen with Christopher Ford. Ford previously co-scripted Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017), which starred Tom Holland as Spidey and pretty much put the actor on the map. Here, Holland plays a young man called Todd who just can’t keep an idea in his head. The year is 2257 and the place is New World, where the denizens are unable to filter their thoughts, so that they protrude as speech bubbles, or at least as wisps of blue smoke. It’s like a gender flip on What Women Want (2000), the romantic fantasy in which Mel Gibson could hear what women were thinking. Some occupants of this weird new world can control their thoughts better than others, but poor old Todd just lets any old notion float into a running commentary of his inner mind. It’s a tedious devise, and it refuses to go away. The director Doug Liman also brought us Edge of Tomorrow, which had one of the best straplines of 2014: “Live. Die. Repeat.” Here the slogan is: “No one escapes the noise”, which is about as enticing as the prospect of a Marilyn Manson track played backwards.

 

It’s your routine dystopian set-up where advanced technology sits side-by-side with a more agrarian culture and the denizens are ruled over by a tyrannical mayor played by Mads Mikkelsen. Todd is the voice of innocence, even if his relentless mutterings are not always squeaky clean. The difference with New World is that there are no women or books, which hardly bodes well for a balanced, intelligent society. Then the unthinkable happens: a kick-ass heroine from another galaxy turns up in the shape of Daisy Ridley, fresh off another sci-fi trilogy featuring a kick-ass heroine. This is where Todd’s thoughts get him into trouble, as he’s never seen a girl before, let alone one as pretty as Daisy Ridley. As it turns out, Mads Mikkelsen is the personification of misogyny and has it in for Viola (Ridley), fast-tracking Todd into manhood to protect his feminine prize. No doubt there are allegories to be grasped by the handful (if you want to go there), but most viewers should be happy with the bare bones of a plot featuring a pair of attractive leads running through a lot of scenic woodland.

 

For a film that is so seemingly unusual, there is a surprising air of familiarity about it. Maybe it’s Daisy Ridley playing a kick-ass heroine from another galaxy or just Mads Mikkelsen exuding an air of supercilious villainy. What is entirely new is David Oyelowo as a fire-and-brimstone preacher who, literally, gives off sheets of flames, like a camp fire on horseback (the accent on camp). Had Chaos Walking traded in its portentous sermonizing for sparky satire, much fun could have been made of the romantic banter between Ridley and Holland. But their chemistry is a desultory thing, even when Todd strips off for a swim, being completely unaware of the concept of modesty. Of course, little makes sense, not least the acceptance that every civilization across the cosmos speaks perfect English (even Mads Mikkelsen). It also seems anomalous (but not unwelcome) that such a big-budget American film should feature four English stars: Ridley, Holland, Oyelowo and Cynthia Erivo. And Mads Mikkelsen.

 

JAMES CAMERON-WILSON

 

Cast: Daisy Ridley, Tom Holland, Mads Mikkelsen, Demián Bichir, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Jonas, David Oyelowo, Ray McKinnon, Kurt Sutter.

 

Dir Doug Liman, Pro Doug Davison, Allison Shearmur, Erwin Stoff and Alison Winter, Screenplay Patrick Ness and Christopher Ford, from Patrick Ness’s novel The Knife of Never Letting Go, Ph Ben Seresin, Pro Des Dan Weil, Ed Doc Crotzer, Music Marco Beltrami and Brandon Roberts, Costumes Kate Hawley, Sound Lon Bender, Dialect coach Rick Lipton.

 

Lionsgate/Quadrant Pictures/Allison Shearmur Productions/3 Arts Entertainment/TIK Films/Hercules Film Fund/Bron Creative-Lionsgate.

109 mins. USA/Canada/Hong Kong. 2021. Rel: 2 April 2021. Cert. 12A.