What worked on the page doesn't work on the screen in this adaptation, despite the stellar cast and fascinating source material. It's remarkable what an impressive ensemble director Doug Liman assembled for this movie. In addition to all the actors already mentioned, there's Cynthia Erivo as the mayor of Prentisstown's neighboring town, David Oyelowo as Prentisstown's sole spiritual leader Aaron, character actor Ray McKinnon in a supporting role, and Nick Jonas as Mayor Prentiss' son, Davy. When Chaos Walking was first announced, it seemed like the project had so much promise. But ultimately it's not an easy story to translate because of the Noise and because of the various subplots that took Ness three books to address but that aren't explained at all here. It should also be noted that, as with the Percy Jackson movies, the main characters are aged up several years. (In the book, they were just 13.)
Fans of Ness' series will be more disappointed by the adaptation than those who've never read the books, but, either way, there's no nuance here and no time to really get to know the characters or their motivations. Rather than revealing and compelling as written in the books, in the movie, the Noise is downright annoying. Todd also seems whiny and immature when played by an actor older than the character was in the story. Because they speed through their journey, Todd and Viola don't have the same time to explore how different towns handled the Noise and how the gender dynamics could have worked had women survived in Prentisstown. Also, as rushed as some parts of the movie are, the pacing and editing are uneven, perhaps the result of the movie's many re-shoots. Even the end feels tacked on and ambiguous, even though it's fairly unlikely that the other books in the series will ever be adapted as sequels. It's a shame that, given all the talent involved, the movie fails to deliver.