A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Chaos Walking is based on Patrick Ness' 2008 young adult dystopian/sci-fi novel The Knife of Never Letting Go. Spider-Man's Tom Holland stars as Todd, a teen living in Prentisstown, an all-male colony on a planet where a disease/phenomenon known as the Noise caused all of men's thoughts to be heard or projected. The human women were all killed by the planet's native inhabitants, so when a young woman named Viola (Daisy Ridley) is the only person to survive a scouting ship's crash landing, her presence wreaks havoc on Prentisstown and endangers her and Todd. While it has themes of communication, teamwork, and perseverance, violence and peril drive the story: The men of Prentisstown are armed, dangerous, and ready to kill. Characters are shot, threatened, injured, and even set on fire. Characters die on camera. An armed man makes menacing overtures toward a woman that seem like a prelude to sexual violence. Two animals are killed: One is shot out of mercy, while the other is murdered in anger. There's also a lot of strong language, much of it in the men's heard/projected thoughts, particularly variations on the word "s--t." Todd frequently thinks about how pretty Viola is and imagines kissing her more than once. In one scene when he takes off his clothes to hunt in the water, viewers see his lower back and a quick glimpse of the top of his butt.
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What's the story?
CHAOS WALKING is based on the first book in Patrick Ness' acclaimed YA sci-fi trilogy. It takes place in a distant future in which humans have escaped Earth to colonize other planets. Todd (Tom Holland) lives in a remote village called Prentisstown on one planet, where a mysterious condition has affected only the men: In a phenomenon known as the Noise, their every thought can be heard or displayed. Todd is the youngest man in Prentisstown because the planet's native species killed all the women when he was a baby. One day Todd stumbles upon a young woman named Viola (Daisy Ridley), the sole survivor of a scouting ship's crash landing. He alerts the town leader, Mayor Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen), who keeps her for questioning. The men's Noise alerts Viola that she's in danger, so she escapes, and Todd decides to help her. Todd's adoptive fathers (Demian Bichir, Kurt Sutter) reveal that Todd and Viola must leave for Farbranch, the next town over, a place Todd didn't even know existed. Prentisstown has an ugly secret, his father explains, and Todd and Viola must make it out in order to survive.
Is it any good?
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.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the violence in Chaos Walking. Is it necessary to the story? Does violence against animals impact viewers differently than violence against or between humans?
Discuss the gender roles in the movie. Why do you think women are so threatening to Prentisstown and its environs?
If you're familiar with the book series that the movie is based on: What changes do you think worked in the adaptation, and what did you miss from the book?
The movie, which initially began shooting in 2017, was plagued with so many publicized issues that the release kept getting pushed back. Did you know about that? Did it affect your opinion of the movie?
- In theaters: March 5, 2021
- On DVD or streaming: April 1, 2021
- Cast: Tom Holland, Daisy Ridley, Mads Mikkelsen
- Director: Doug Liman
- Studio: Lionsgate
- Genre: Science Fiction
- Topics: Book Characters, Space and Aliens
- Run time: 109 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: violence and language
- Last updated: April 7, 2021
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