" I’ve got a government job to abuse "
— John Travolta, Face/Off

MRQE Top Critic

Operation Condor

Jackie Chan meets Indiana Jones —Andrea Birgers (review...)

Chan borrows from Raiders

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What a mess.

Hide Your Noise

Tom Holland, beefcake
Tom Holland, beefcake

Wow. Director Doug Liman’s career epitomizes the notion of peaks and valleys. It’s already been seven years since Liman paired Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt in a big-budget sophisticated sci-fi action flick, Edge of Tomorrow. That one was great and a sequel with the unwieldy title of Live Die Repeat and Repeat is in the works. The low-budget dramedy Swingers put Liman — along with his stars Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau — on the map back in 1997. Those movies are money, baby.

But then there are the busts, like Jumper in 2008. And now, Chaos Walking. Yikes. This one is remarkably unlikable. And that’s despite another great idea for a pairing: Tom Holland (Spider-Man: Far from Home) and Daisy Ridley (Star Wars: The Force Awakens).

Throw this one in the dumpster fire of young adult books gone rancid in the transition to film. Chris Weitz tried to bring His Dark Materials to the bring screen with The Golden Compass in 2007, but at least that series found a rebirth on HBO, where the narrative enjoyed more breathing room unbound from conforming to the pressures of a two-hour movie. The Divergent Trilogy tried to make a go of it, but rather infamously made it through only three movies. That was back when converting three books into four movies was in vogue, an era ushered in by Harry Potter’s seven books expanding into eight movies. So, The Divergent Trilogy, despite having three movies, was never completed.

This first (and most likely only) entry is based on The Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness; it’s a well-regarded series from 2010 and the first book boasts quite a title: The Knife of Never Letting Go. Ness co-wrote the screenplay with Christopher Ford (Spider-Man: Homecoming), which is fine. Ness adapted his A Monster Calls into an award-winning movie back in 2017.

Control Your Noise

So, what went wrong here?

Almost everything. For starters, it’s simply not a compelling concept and the core idea that was the kernel of the story in the books has been morphed into something very Hollywood.

That story is about a colonization effort on a planet cleverly named New World. Something strange impacts the male colonizers. On New World, their thoughts become visible waves of color and sound; at their most intense, the waves fill with high-res imagery. But women don’t have this affliction, which is called “noise.”

There’s an idea there. Is this a covert dig at men not being able to read women’s minds? Ah, if only it were that clever. Don’t forget, this is one of those YA adaptations.

As the story unfolds, it’s alleged a creature native to New World waged war on the colonists and killed all the women. That’s pretty precise and selective mass murder, but it’s also a ruse that leads to a ho-hum twist. And even here there’s an interesting notion thrown out: does behavior constitute the difference between native and foreigner? Well, only if words no longer have any meaning.

Anyway, maybe the biggest problem here is Tom Holland. Gasp! Jeepers! No! He’s so likable as Spider-Man!

Yeah, but in the books, his character, Todd, is a 13-year-old runt in a tribe of burly he-men. In real life, Holland is pushing toward the ripe old age of 25 and he’s looking buff here, like an actor who’s getting ready to play Nathan Drake in a movie adaptation of the Uncharted adventure video game series. (Hmmm. And he is.) The character should be something more along the lines of 13-year-old Christian Bale when he made his debut in Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Empire of the Sun. Instead, on a few occasions, the camera lens leers at Holland, like he’s a slice of slightly underprepared beefcake.

This is — apparently — supposed to be a story of maturation and leadership. But this is also the kind of cinematic nightmare (think The Goldfinch) that makes reading the book a completely unpalatable idea after seeing the movie.

Watch Your Noise

Leeloo... er... make that Viola
Leeloo... er... make that Viola

It takes 64 years to get from Earth to New World. During that journey, things happen and new people are born. That includes Viola (Ridley), part of a team sent on a mission to reestablish contact with the first wave of colonizers. Unlike Holland, Ridley’s decked out like Leeloo, Milla Jovovich’s character in The Fifth Element.

The year is 2257, but in an odd twist of technology, their landing craft is strangely reminiscent of the Apollo mission’s recovery capsule. While travel between planets has become a standard thing in the intervening 288 years, common sense is still elusive. The capsule — at least by appearances when trying to piece together the movie’s geography — was attempting to land in a small body of water on a heavily forested planet. It’s like trying to drop a marble from the mesosphere and hoping it lands in a bathtub.

It’s not much of a surprise the capsule crashes and Viola becomes the sole survivor.

But. Sigh. It actually gets worse.

There’s a heavy Western vibe going on here. It’s noted the temperature is a balmy 3,000 degrees. Granted, the scale wasn’t named, but, nonetheless, while most of the husky tree-choppers are sweating it out in henleys, the colony’s mayor, Prentiss (Mads Mikkelsen, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story), is sporting a ridiculous fur coat.

The vibe of Grizzly Adams meets Star Trek simply doesn’t work. The utter lack of chemistry between Holland and Ridley is disappointing.

It’s too much. Make it stop.

Maybe it was that very thought that caused the freaky power surge that stopped the movie — and the “noise” — during a sparsely populated Tuesday evening IMAX screening. After restarting the movie (which, sadly, these days means rebooting), what began as a pandemic crowd of five dwindled down to only three making it to the end credits.