Chaos Walking review: Tom Holland’s lost action movie is actually good

In August 2020, Disney seized the day to discharge The New Mutants, an X-Men spinoff that was shot back in 2017, however consistently postponed and shelved till it became an unceremonious test balloon for the mid-pandemic theatrical experience. Now that motion picture’s young-adult schoolmate is doing the same.

Mayhem Strolling, a sci-fi thriller that likewise began production in 2017, is lastly reaching cinema after a number of years’ worth of release-date hold-ups — and reshoots, which were reported for New Mutants, however didn’t in fact occur. The movie has actually been dithering in post-production for so long that director Doug Liman lapped his own motion picture; his follow-up task Locked Down was developed, set, and shot throughout the pandemic, however still made it to audiences 2 months prior to Mayhem Strolling.

As it takes place, “Chaos Walking” is a quite suitable title for nearly any Doug Liman motion picture. He appears to concentrate on disorderly, distressed productions that in some way keep moving, and periodically end up being cherished hits. His finest work has an unique, in some cases nearly irritable sense of seriousness, and his series of jobs makes him hard to select. Scaling up from his smaller-scale funnies Swingers and Go, he made The Bourne Identity, which went through rewrites, reshoots, and studio disturbance, just to become a significant franchise-starter. He followed up with Mr. and Mrs. Smith, which went method over spending plan prior to ending up being a smash, though not a great one. Then, in the nick of time to weaken his newly found box-office influence, he directed the hokey sci-fi love Jumper, with young Star Wars star Hayden Christensen ahead function. He duplicates that technique with Mayhem Strolling, which ostensibly looks like Jumper.

Todd (Tom Holland) looks around a forest while a wispy cloud of purple and pink swirls around his head in Chaos Walking

Image: Lionsgate

Comparing Mayhem Strolling to both Jumper and The New Mutants might seem like a straight-out condemnation. Yet in traditional unforeseeable Liman style, this jumbled and apparently truncated adjustment of the very first book in a YA trilogy is nevertheless pleasant, amusing sci-fi. It’s saddled with a concept that’s murderously difficult to visualize: On a distant planet, hundreds of years in the future, the thoughts of every human male are broadcast for anyone to hear and see. This can include images, dreams, and memories, which swirl around the menfolks’ heads like an effects-haze version of a cartoon thought bubble. It’s called The Noise, as in “Hide your Noise!”, a regular refrain. Some men are better at keeping their thoughts quiet than others, but for everyone, it’s clearly an ongoing struggle.

What about the women? As far as Todd (Tom Holland) knows, there aren’t any. He’s part of a settlement of Earth refugees, too young to remember what elders like the Mayor (Mads Mikkelsen) consider the defining event of their lives. After making their homes on this new planet, the colony’s women were all killed by mysterious native beings dubbed the Spackle. This tale gets another workout when Viola (Star Wars sequel-series lead Daisy Ridley) crashlands in a scout ship, hoping to find a thriving community to welcome a larger ship of ex-Earthers, trailing her arrival. Instead, she’s beset with the innermost thoughts of every man she meets, while her own “Noise” remains quiet and guarded. The movie only lightly touches upon the utter horror this must represent to Viola, perhaps because it’s not that different from many other, less fantastical situations where women are exposed to men’s feelings and opinions against their will.

For example: Chaos Walking centers on two equally interesting characters, but the movie’s point of view sticks closely to Todd’s, as he struggles to contain his fascination with Viola. (He’s constantly apologizing for idly wondering whether they’ll ever kiss, even as he understands how unlikely that is.) Here, the filmmakers struggle with what an inner monologue really sounds like, even as they come up with neat visuals. Most of Todd’s thoughts are ridiculously linear and clear, with minor bits of repetition and daydreams meant to provide the colorful outer limits of his brain. People’s thoughts here rarely seem to include free association or maddening fixations. (Lucky for them, no one in this colony seems to remember any songs to get stuck in their heads.) The movie is more interested in logistical challenges than anything more philosophical, as seen when Todd and Viola flee, seeking another settlement that one of Todd’s adoptive fathers (Demián Bichir) says will keep her safe. It’s hard to sneak through a forest undetected when you’re literally broadcasting your fear and uncertainty.

david oyelowo on horseback in choas walking

Tom Holland looking especially ripped in a browning tank top in Chaos Walking

Murray Close/Lionsgate

Cynthia Erivo holding a big-ass gun in Chaos Walking

Mads Mikkelsen as a fur coat-wearing, horse-riding Mayor in Chaos Walking

Photos: Murray Close/Lionsgate

Chaos Walking moves briskly through all of this nonsense in Liman’s trademark rough-and-tumble style. Holland and Ridley stay close to their Disney-franchise personas: He’s gawky and sensitive, she’s scrappy and wary. But there’s a reason they were so beloved as Peter Parker and Rey, respectively, and the movie takes easy, enjoyable advantage of their charisma. This fantasy-Western of sorts is full of modest pleasures like that. The costumes by Kate Hawley (Crimson Peak and Liman’s Edge of Tomorrow, among others) mix rustic faux-frontier coziness with muted futurism. Certain world-building details are allowed to stay in the background, rather than taking on the weight of mythology. And Liman positions his actors with an intuitive feel for dramatic blocking. Though the movie’s concepts leave a lot of comic potential untapped, there is a funny moment when Todd realizes he’ll be bunking with a guy who dreams only of baseball games.

For most of Chaos Walking, it’s easy to forget that this production ran into some manner of trouble, with another director stepping in to helm substantial-sounding reshoots, reportedly after poor test screenings. The final stretch gives things away, as it becomes clear that the movie is hurtling toward an abrupt conclusion, and that certain story threads will not be picked back up. It’s difficult to tell what might have been shot, what might have been gutted, and what might have simply fallen prey to the difficulties of adapting the very first book in a YA trilogy, hoping and assuming that more might follow.

But say this for a movie that technically falls in the tradition of anonymous junk like I Am Number Four and The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones: This orphaned YA-fantasy story still has moments that feel like a quintessential Liman project, and not especially because of any obvious thematic preoccupations, or even an inimitable style. Rather, for much of its running time, Chaos Walking manages to sustain the feeling of anticipating a Doug Liman motion picture — the unpredictability of whether it will succeed versus the odds, or descend into chaotic noise.

Mayhem Strolling opens in theaters on March 5, 2020. Prior to checking out any theater throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Polygon advises reading our guide to regional security preventative measures.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.