Mar 12, 2021 | LIFE | By Andrew Rodden | Illustration by Patil Khakhamian

You’d be hard pressed to find a movie that is worse in a movie theater than on the small screen; while most every movie is elevated by the theater atmosphere, some desperately need such a setting in order to be enjoyed. Doug Liman’s latest sci-fi film “Chaos Walking” is one of those movies. It’s a spectacle piece with an execution (and a stupid title) that turns its peculiar but unique premise into a confused gimmick.

For a popcorn flick, there are worse movies to watch, but there are way better movies, too, like Liman’s own “Edge of Tomorrow” (2014) and “The Bourne Identity” (2002).  

The film is set hundreds of years into the future, when humans have left the tight confines of our solar system to colonize a distant planet in another galaxy. The planet, named New World, is lush with flora and fauna not too different from what you’d find on Earth. However, because of reasons left painfully underdeveloped – the film glosses over vital nitty gritty details – every man’s thoughts audibly emanate in a cloud of “Noise.”

In a secluded frontier town only populated by men, Todd Hewitt (Tom Holland) works on his adoptive fathers’ (Demián Bichir and Kurt Sutter) beet farm, until a scouting spacecraft crash lands in the nearby forest. Struggling to control his own Noise, Todd investigates and discovers the only survivor, a woman named Viola (Daisy Ridley).

They must work together to escape the clutches of a deceitful town mayor (played by a phoned-in Mads Mikkelsen) before he can ruin her chances of returning to the massive starship that she calls home. 

Adapted from Patrick Ness’s science-fiction series of Young Adult novels, “Chaos Walking” has been trapped in production hell since 2012, when Lionsgate bought the film rights and signed none other than Charlie Kaufman to write the screenplay. He only made it through a single draft before leaving the project, so a small army of random writers followed with several drafts in the near decade thereafter.

The movie started filming in 2017 and was set to release in 2019, but due to extensive reshoots (and COVID-19), the movie finally premiered March 5, 2021. You’d think nine years of work would’ve yielded a better film (or at least, a more exciting mess), but the result is disappointing and disposable. 

The best word to describe “Chaos Walking” is “generic.” The premise is somewhat interesting, yes, but instead of tackling the burgeoning sci-fi genre with something more inventive, audiences are presented with a movie they’ve seen a dozen of times before.

The production elements are fine, indicating the $100 million budget was put to good use. It has decent action sequences, acceptable VFX, solid performances here and there, but what movie these days lacks these elements? 

This movie only works if you have massive amounts of popcorn to shove into your mouth in front of a big screen with a beefy sound system. Does it inspire? Nope. Does it say something grand? Nope. Does it entertain? If you turn off your brain for two hours, mostly. Any thought into the logic of the world and progression of the story will probably be more thought than Liman and the film’s many screenwriters put into their own movie. 

Walking out of the auditorium, I landed back on Earth, and quickly realized most of the entertainment I had could be attributed to seeing the movie in a theater. If you can’t see this in a movie theater, don’t bother watching “Chaos Walking” once it hits streaming services, as its decent spectacle isn’t enough to compensate for its vapid story.

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