'Chaos Walking' is a confusing adaptation of the YA trilogy

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By Evelyn Heis, First Year, English Literature

With its exceptional cast, $125,000,000 budget, and four-year production time, to say this film has been hyped is an understatement.

Amidst a global pandemic and major scene reshoots, the release date for Chaos Walking (2021) was pushed back from March 2019 to January 2021, leaving fans anxiously awaiting.

Based on Patrick Ness’ award-winning novel, ‘The Knife of Never Letting Go,’ Chaos Walking features Tom Holland playing 12-year-old Todd Hewitt, an angsty, hot-tempered teen who lives in Prentisstown: a town devoid of women and plagued by ‘the Noise’ – a supernatural force that displays everyone’s thoughts like a broadcasting system. When Todd stumbles upon a mysterious aircraft and meets a girl, named Viola (Daisy Ridley) his whole world turns upside down and he is forced to run away from all he has ever known.

Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley in Chaos Walking (2021) | Courtesy of IMDb

As a big fan of Patrick Ness and the book trilogy, I was counting down the days to Chaos Walking’s release. In an ideal and Covid-free world, I would have even been able to watch it in the cinema instead of streaming it at home. One of the things I was eagerly anticipating was how the director and screenwriters would visually depict ‘the Noise’ on the screen, given that it is easier to display loud, overlapping thoughts and mutterings in the form of scrambled words on paper than it is in real life.

I was hoping that after watching this film, I would feel the same way as I did when I left the cinema in 2014 after watching Divergent, The Maze Runner, or Mockingjay: Part 1. Instead, I was not only disappointed but dismayed that one of my favourite dystopian YA novels had been butchered.

The plot was confusing, the characters were underdeveloped, and it strayed from the novel’s already established and practically perfect narrative. Unfortunately, a lot of the key and tender elements of the narrative were left out in the film, resulting in two-dimensional characters, a cheesy script, and a lot of unanswered questions surrounding the premise of the plot. It is clear that Doug Liman decided to employ a different approach to Ness’ novel, and while his creativity should be praised, it ended up being anticlimactic.

Fortunately, those who read the books and had familiarised themselves with the dystopian and supernatural concepts of the Chaos Walking series before the film would not find the film confusing, only underwhelming. I think that I was most upset about the fact that Manchee (Todd’s fluffy and loyal sidekick) did not receive any dialogue in this film when he played such a wholesome and comedic role in the books as a dog who yelled ‘squirrel!’  every two seconds, like Dug from Up (2009).

Nick Jonas in Chaos Walking (2021) | Courtesy of IMDb

I admired how Liman depicts ‘the Noise’ as a purple cloud that sits on Tom Holland’s head and holds his innermost thoughts or imagined scenarios as he daydreams or mumbles to himself. I thought it was an interesting and visually effective interpretation to capture the essence of one’s mind, though it appeared ‘tame’ in comparison to the overwhelming and loud description of ‘the Noise’ in the novels.

Needless to mention, the cast also needs to be praised: Mads Mikkelsen gave a great performance as the villain Mayor Prentiss, and Daisy Ridley, Nick Jonas, and Tom Holland, all suited their roles perfectly – it would be hard to envision another cast. Even though Tom Holland is believable as a high schooler in the Spider-Man films, it is a little harder to believe that he’s 12.

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The premise for Chaos Walking is not the problem; it was the way it was explored and depicted in the film. Given that filming began in August 2017, reshoots were scheduled in 2019, before finally releasing the film in 2021. We can presume that the execution process for Chaos Walking was starting to resemble literal chaos.

As someone biased for having read the books first, I highly recommend picking up Patrick Ness’ novel trilogy and steering clear from this film if you’re after a captivating, well-developed story with badass characters.

Featured: IMDb


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AUTHOR

Evelyn Heis

Columnist for the Film&Tv section of the Epigram.