In “Chaos Walking,” Lionsgate’s newest endeavor of young adult, science fiction book-to-film adaptations, Tom Holland (“Cherry”) plays Todd Hewitt, a boy living in Prentisstown on a faraway planet called New World. Prentisstown and New World bear resemblances to the classic dystopian young adult novel setting — large expanses of uninhabited land, greenery that has yet to be cut down for whatever humanity deemed necessary. And, as always, something is amiss. Two somethings, actually: There are no women in Prentisstown, and its inhabitants all deal with the Noise (a condition in which everyone can see and hear your thoughts).
The characters aren’t the only ones who suffer from the onslaught of stimulus that comes with the Noise — the audience also must sift through constant voiceovers and conjured images to decipher what is actually happening in the story. Because the setup of the Noise is so jarring, “Chaos Walking” is one of the few films that I’m glad I didn’t see in theaters, given how helpful the subtitles were.
And that, frankly, is where the story stops. “Chaos Walking” is based on a 2008 science fiction novel, and if the film had been released in 2010, then it may have sparked some interest. But, as it stands, “Chaos Walking” introduces recycled power dynamics between disapproving parents and teens-who-don’t-know-any-better. And, of course, it wouldn’t be a YA novel without a love interest.
Daisy Ridley (“Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker”) is introduced as Viola, a girl who crash-lands on New World and happens to be the first woman Todd has ever encountered. While the film only hints at a potential relationship, it’s easy to make the logical leap, especially when every other Tom Holland thought-voiceover is “pretty girl,” “yellow hair” or, as their friendship deepens, “I wish she wouldn’t leave.”
Though “Chaos Walking” leaves much to be desired, its poor performance is unsurprising given the project’s harrowing production schedule and abysmal box office debut. While filming wrapped in 2017, the project required a series of reshoots and eventually cost Lionsgate roughly $100 million while only bringing in $4 million. To put this in perspective, “Shrek 2” took about $70 million to make and brought in $104.3 million on its opening weekend. Granted, “Shrek 2” didn’t have the caveat of a pandemic closing most theaters worldwide. But, at the same time, what else do people have to do other than watch movies? Was it really the pandemic that prompted the failure of the film? For the sake of Tom Holland’s career, let’s just say yes.
It’s tragic, though, that “Chaos Walking” couldn’t draw in its viewers. But it’s not alone in its failed YA novel-to-film-adaptation endeavor. In fact, it joins the ranks of many strong book series that were cast aside in Hollywood. After all, how could we forget our dear Percy Jackson? A series that could have arguably rivaled “Harry Potter,” both in scope and popularity, and yet all we got were two questionable films that only reminded everyone why you should definitely just read the books instead.
Despite its convoluted premise and less-than-satisfactory box office debut, Ridley and Holland still manage to foster a cute dynamic between their characters, with Holland playing Todd in a way that’s reminiscent of his role as the new “Spider-Man’s” Peter Parker.
Although nothing was inherently new or profitable about “Chaos Walking,” it still remains a good Friday night watch, given that my other options were watching Chinese dramas with my parents or going to bed at 9 p.m. Such is life in a pandemic.
Daily Arts Writer Emma Chang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.