This adaptation might be just what the YA genre needs.
Young adult adaptations have felt decidedly bloated and uninspired for a long time. In the era of cinematic universes, many YA films have sped through the production line but puttered out before becoming fully realized franchises in their own right. There hasn’t even really been a YA release worth mentioning in years.
The trend that got going with the Harry Potter series seems to have slowly but surely run itself out. Gone are the days of the intense fandoms of The Hunger Games and Twilight. Projects in the last year alone, such as The 5th Wave and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, failed to capture any level of success, let alone the gargantuan reception of those past properties.
Still, Hollywood continues to try to make it work. Lionsgate curated its post-Hunger Games schedule away from YA films, but appears primed to return with a bang with Chaos Walking, to be adapted from the first book of Patrick Ness’s series of the same name.
The initial announcement of the adaptation sparked widespread interest in its casting of resident Spider-Man, Tom Holland, and Star Wars leading lady, Daisy Ridley, as its co-leads. The Hollywood Reporter has learned this week that Mads Mikkelsen (Rogue One, A Royal Affair) is in talks to join them as the villain in the Doug Liman-directed feature.
Chaos Walking follows young Todd Hewitt (Holland) as he unearths the mysteries of his Christian settlement town, which is ruled over by a ruthless mayor (Mikkelsen). Set on a colony planet where an endemic virus has killed almost all women, the remaining living creatures are also subjected to hearing each other’s thoughts, which they call the Noise. As Todd comes of age, he meets a girl (Ridley), the first one in his life, and the world as he knows it is overturned.
Having optioned the rights in 2011, Chaos Walking brewed for a good six years at Lionsgate. It is due to enter production in Montreal later in the summer.
The script for Chaos Walking has gone through a variety of writers in its six years of development, including Charlie Kaufman (Eternal Sunshine for the Spotless Mind), Gary Spinelli (American Made), and Jamie Linden (Money Monster). Kaufman’s involvement is intriguing in and of itself. This is relatively commercial fare for him, and his penchant for the surreal could transform typical YA tropes into something far more ambitious.
Holland, Ridley, and Mikkelsen all bring vast audiences in tow, each reaching different viewer demographics. Holland made a name for himself in JA Bayona’s The Impossible but has most recently ensnared young hearts as the perfect Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming. He continues to do impressive work in less commercial fare like The Lost City of Z and Pilgrimage, as well. Ridley meanwhile was highly praised in her breakout appearance as Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Mikkelsen also flexes some Star Wars credibility as Galen Erso in Rogue One but is primarily known in Hollywood for villainous portrayals, such as his eponymous role in Bryan Fuller’s artsy TV drama, Hannibal. Plus there are all his international credits.
That’s a lot of fresh talent to be excited about in a single movie.
Coming so late in the game of YA adaptations, there is plenty that Chaos Walking needs to get right in order to attract more than just a younger, more impressionable audience. It’s a YA film, so we have to expect it to be trope-filled. But as long as it’s a delight and features believable, empathetic performances, it could very well be a winner.
But of course, a string of studio films are out there, set to keep us on our toes. Films from the last two years alone have felt lackluster despite the presence of undeniable talent. It’s all just horribly misused.
Miss Peregrine is a notable example. Regardless of box office returns, it was disastrously received by critics and audiences alike. Considering how well-loved the original novels are, it was one of the most disappointing films to come out of the YA adaptation circuit. Tim Burton’s work as a director may comprise more misses than hits in recent years, but Miss Peregrine was a massive waste despite its perfect casting of Eva Green in the title role.
Not to be let off the hook are established franchises like Divergent. In fact, it is probably a worse crime to invest as much as that series did and employ Kate Winslet and Naomi Watts only for it to fizzle out so embarrassingly. Are we ever going to see that final installment, Ascendant? Do we even want it? Obviously not.
We have to treat Chaos Walking as a completely different beast, though. It’s a project that’s been stewing for so long, and the pieces that have fallen into place actually give us hope. Perhaps being released further down the line compared to other adaptations of its ilk would in itself generate some level of interest. Dystopian stories may be a well-worn industry favorite, but hopefully Liman’s action-oriented directorial sensibilities and even a touch of Kaufman’s originality shines through the generic mold. There is little doubt that the cast so far will be able to carry the film when even the young ones have proven themselves in giant tentpole movies.
Combining alien life, deadly viruses and the post-apocalypse, Chaos Walking already sounds like an intensely fun and confronting romp that could breathe new life into a tired genre.