First, it was great in 2021 to actually see a big budget movie on the big screen with a good size audience at Alamo Drafthouse! Nothing will ever beat the theatre experience for true movie fans, especially with Alamo’s hilarious and often insightful pre-movie dives into old trailers that match the movie’s theme.
CHAOS WALKING certainly looks like a big budget sci-fi adventure, powered by strong special effects and a powerhouse cast loaded with talent.
As the film opens, it has a classic western feel, tinged with an edge of Kevin Costner’s “The Postman”. We are pulled into a dystopian world with two jarring qualities. Everyone’s inner thoughts can be heard and often seen as “The Noise” above their heads in a colorful vapor that circles above them. Keeping secrets can be pretty hard, as witnessed with young Todd (Tom Holland, Marvel’s current Spiderman) who seems to spend most of his thoughts bemoaning his current life on a farm and looking for something more. There are more than a few echoes of Luke Skywalker’s whining in the original Star Wars.
Mads Mikkelsen is terrific as Mayor Prentiss, who oversees their town that feels like an 1800’s throwback to a macho, "testosterone rules" village. This is made all the more apparent by the fact that all the women of their town were murdered by the indigenous species of the planet, an alien race that looks suspiciously like those lanky, water-hating creatures from “Signs”.
Into this world plunges Daisy Ridley (Rey from Star Wars) as astronaut and new-world settler Viola. She’s the sole survivor of their exploratory mission to the planet. Viola and Todd are thrown together in an escape adventure/quest to contact her mother ship and the 4000 settlers right behind them.
Viola’s arrival feels a lot like Ripley’s intrusion into the all-male prison in “Alien3”. Only this time you can see all the thoughts of hate, fear and lust swirling around the men’s heads as a tangible threat.
The first 15 minutes of the film, I was thinking how annoying that those mist thought bubbles were, but as you adapt to the communication, it becomes an interesting story telling vehicle. The sound effects team does excellent work throughout, swirling those thoughts around your own head in the theatre and plunging you deep into some very good action sequences.
David Oyelowo (Selma) is excellent, if underused, as the local preacher who brings new power to fire & brimstone. Cynthia Erivo (The Outsider) matches him as the mayor of another town. Nick Jonas is all violence and vinegar as Mayor Prentiss’ son. Demian Bichir (The Hateful Eight) is powerful as Todd’s father.
Every corner of the cast is filled with some of the best actors working today, which elevate the formula film. Without them, I think this would sink like a stone. I’m not familiar with the books on which it’s based, but it feels like they are cramming a lot of story into two hours.
Holland and Ridley are both very good and enjoyable in the lead roles, bringing a fresh angle to what could easily be examined as a deep analogy to the traditional roles of men and women in society. Suffice to say the women are powerfully and entertaingly kicking some serious ass here.
Director Doug Liman has made some great underrated films in the past decade, including Tom Cruise’s ‘Edge of Tomorrow” and “The Bourne Identity” and he delivers great action scenes and more gravitas than the movie probably deserves, as derivative as it is. With $125 million budget, the film looks great, but screams for more details and character development behind all the thundering horses, soaring spaceships and mad escapes.
CHAOS WALKING looks and sounds great but about an hour after you leave the theatre, it all just wisps away like so much “Noise”. I’ll give it a C+ carried by its special effects, stunt, sound teams and a fantastic cast looking for more to do….
I did mention this reminds me a lot of Costner’s ‘The Postman” right?