I had high hopes for Chaos Walking, a new sci fi movie on Hulu staring Tom Holland and Daisy Ridley.
The concept was great: a new planet where your thoughts permeate outside of your head, and a strange girl lands in a world where there seemingly aren’t any women. It paired a few clichés together, but it looked like it would be a good 2 hours of my time.
Space Western was one of the prominent themes of the movie, with everyone in cowboy hats and riding horses. But, in terms of substance, the film offered very little. Chaos Walking severely overpromised what it had to offer, and in the end, I was left disappointed and unsatisfied.
I didn’t know this when I watched the movie, but Chaos Walking is based on a book by Patrick Ness, The Knife of Never Letting Go, published in 2008. Now, the book has received rave reviews, and even won the James Tiptree, Jr. Award, the Guardian Award, and the Booktrust Teenage Prize.
In 2011, a team of writers, including Ness, started writing a screenplay for the book, and in 2017, the film began production. This project was 10 years in the making, finally being released in 2021.
The film stars Daisy Ridley, Tom Holland, Mads Mikkelson, Nick Jonas, Cynthia Erivo, David Oyelowo, and Demián Bichir.
Despite a decade of preparation, the film flopped upon release. The film just barely made a quarter of the money spent to make it, and critics ripped it to shreds. The film has a 4.5/10 on Rotten Tomatoes, and multiple critics have bashed on the movie’s “generic characters” and lackluster plot.
Worldbuilding and Stuff
Before we slap a verdict on Chaos Walking, I want to talk about the worldbuilding.
Now, I’ve never read The Knife of Never Letting Go, so the movie could have obliterated the science of the world (hopefully not, considering it took Ness and 5 other people 6 years to write the screenplay), but I felt there was really something interesting about the setting. In New World, which is some non-Earth planet, I-don’t-really-know-they-never-explained-it, your thoughts become external, like a little blue halo-ish thing and a voice that says what you’re thinking.
This happens to all the men on the planet, and occurs naturally for the indigenous race, the Spackle. The women aren’t impacted by the Noise, as it’s called. People who have learned to control their Noise are able to manipulate their thoughts to create illusions. We see Todd, (Tom Holland) the main character, create a snake in the beginning of the film, and other characters cast illusions of real people later on.
Coincidentally, the whole mind-illusions premise reminds me of the mechanics of Brandon Bellecourt’s Absynthe, where soldiers were injected with a serum to allow them to communicate telepathically and craft illusions using their mind.
Despite the interesting concept, Chaos Walking does not make any effort to explain how the world works. There’s clearly something about the aura of the planet because we see as soon as Viola’s (Daisy Ridley) crew enters atmosphere, the men start to experience the Noise.
No explanation of the Noise, no real explanation of the Spackle, and not an inkling of how, who, when, or why humans settled New World to begin with.
From my perspective, world building certainly isn’t one of Chaos Walking’s strong suites. But, does it have any redeeming qualities?
The Acting Is Okay…?
For a sci fi movie on Hulu, I was surprised to see so many popular actors and actresses in Chaos Walking. Tom Holland has pretty much become the new Orland Bloom of his time, and Daisy Ridley, the new Kiera Knightley. It’s kind of weird to think that they both come from massive blockbuster franchises, Marvel and Star Wars, and ended up in a half-baked sci fi concept movie.
I’d say that the actors were limited by the one-dimensional aspect of the characters. I hate to lean into the criticism around the film, but I have to agree that the motivations of the characters are bland and generic.
And as an actor, there’s only so much you can do to break out of that mold. Mads Mikkelson plays great villains, but even his character lacks depth or purpose.
Is Chaos Walking The Worst Sci Fi Movie on Hulu?
It kind of blows my mind to think that Chaos Walking was in various stages of production for a decade, and yet didn’t even manage to bring in half the money the company spent to make it. For me, at least, if I’m working on a project, the longer I have to work on it, the better the final product will be.
Chaos Walking is the antithesis of that sentiment. If you watch it as a B-rated sci fi movie, it’s fine. You have to take a lot of things at face value, and be prepared to get confused at the ins-and-outs of the world.
But it really shouldn’t have ended up like that. Had the team focused more on developing motivations for characters, especially the villains, then I think the film would have done better.
At the end of the day, the villains—and to some degree, the protagonists—were driven by a single-minded goal that lacked complexity in a world that should have been very intricate. The Noise presented a great opportunity for developing character relationships, and yet, the writers fell back on the proliferation of random thoughts giving away secrets or upsetting people.
Overall, there was a good idea here for a movie, but the execution was severely lacking, so much so that even the collective acting expertise of the cast couldn’t fix it. I give Chaos Walking a 4/10, and the mantle of the worst sci fi movie on Hulu.