Still have room for earth-shattering news in your being? Here’s one more to register: Chaos Walking is upon us. Really, this time. Really. And yet, after all the second chances in the forms of delays and touch-ups from Fede Álvarez, the latest from Doug Liman is a bore. Unpleasant time-drainer. It’s what Manchee (two border terriers, Lamborghini and Winston) needed when he first appeared, which is—
OK, hush. Hush! Control. Control. Whoosah. Keeping calm is the key to conquer Chaos Walking, for if the liberties taken to adapt Patrick Ness’ layered novel—the first of three—to the screen don’t get you, the directorial detachment and consistent dullness will. It’s fine that thinking out loud, coined “Noise” by the humans who colonized this planet called New World and visualized as a smoky light show around the head, is now a human-only feature as opposed to human-and-animal; in this way the viewer’s introduction to Ness’ strange, incredibly fresh setting is less overwhelming.
What’s not fine, however, is that Liman provides zilch incentive to engage with the strangeness, this incredible freshness. Instead of channeling his Edge of Tomorrow self, the filmmaker opts for his also-for-YA Jumper one, using this haphazard, uncertain visual language to solve the mysteries—the nature of Noise, how does it play into our leads Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland) and Viola Eade (Daisy Ridley)’s eventual discovery of a truth the adults would want to stay buried and how, from there, the mayor plus preacher of Todd’s settlement, Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen) and Aaron (David Oyelowo), will hunt them down—and build a universe designed for multiple visits.
Liman’s action-driven style, while it does make the film easier to market, turns out to be the knife that guts the film’s (and by extension the source material’s) reason for being. Its points of difference. None of that bouncy camerawork and impatience in moments meant to deepen the on-screen scene or soul are gestures denoting awareness, let alone comprehension, of the present, satisfying and meaningful asks and answers Ness has provided—and likely added to the script which he co-writes. So enamored is the chaos when so needed is some walking, so much more additional noise when we’re dying for some deconstructions of it. The first Hunger Games, also from Lionsgate and also another dystopian YA work with (realized!) franchise dreams, is also frenetic (and somewhat similar color grading?), but the difference is Gary Ross knows when to be so—and when not to so Suzanne Collins’ world can show off its foundations.
It’s disturbing how often one expresses nothing when presented with information meant to advance the plot, seed the sequel or explore the subtext. That Chaos Walking thinks so little of its elements is the cause of this. The book sees the way Noise affects just the men as an opener for fascinating discussions on gender dynamics; the film meanwhile as opportunities to wrap frankly cool-looking smoke CGI around a talent’s head. Since Noise-based thoughts are secrets, insecurities and primal behavior on display, a voice-acting component to the performance seems to be a prerequisite here; only Mikkelsen and Oyelowo seem to be aware of that, and it’s hard to believe Holland and Ridley are not (unless it’s Liman’s orders). Viola’s silence and Todd’s loudness should have created more friction, or at least more fire to the friction, and sequences where they can be used to outwit dangers. How in the world do you have Cynthia Erivo in your cast and give her a role like that? Why do you have Nick Jonas in your cast? There is talk of an upcoming war but no cinematic reason is provided to worry about it! Who knows whether it’s a case of mismatched wavelengths or apathy to the material, Chaos Walking is having issues and questions it shouldn’t be courting.
Let’s wait for a series “reboot” like His Dark Materials did for The Golden Compass. If not, a remake with a director who cares. How do we make that happen? Is it #ReleasetheRealNoise or #SaveChaosWalking?