Not many knew of Tom Holland before he arrived on the scene as Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War. Since then, Holland has become a household name, yet he hasn’t seen a whole lot of screen time outside of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and some voice-work in high-profile movies like Spies In Disguise and Onward. In every such case, Holland has built a reputation for playing nervous, geeky-tech kids who are more anxious about asking out the pretty girl in school than confronting the evil that wrecks havoc in his life. Chaos Walking and Cherry, two films that premiered over the last couple of weeks, give Holland a chance to break from that stereotype and prove that he has the chops to live outside of the fun-loving, nerdy persona.
In Chaos Walking, Holland stars as Todd, a young man born on a planet with the unique property of outwardly displaying the thoughts of all of the men. Because of this, all women have been eradicated by the planet’s native alien species. That is until a colony transport from Earth arrives to check on the progress of the previous colony and verify its habitability. The only surviving member of the transport after it crashes is Viola (Daisy Ridley), who’s immediately hunted by the colony’s Mayor (Mads Mikkelsen). Todd takes it upon himself to help Viola get to a second colony in order for her to contact her ship, all while hiding from his own townspeople (who do not want the colony ship to arrive) and the planet’s native species.
The concept of Walking is definitely interesting and the execution on a surface level is strong, even as it does seem to take liberties in its own rules. For example, as a way to keep from having the thoughts of specific characters revealed to others is explained away as some having more control over their thoughts. This type of thing feels like a bit of a cop-out, as the characters who can control their thoughts would have been tarred and feathered a long time ago, and those who can’t reveal secrets necessary to move the plot forward. However, when it comes to depicting Todd’s thoughts, each is delivered in a manner that not only makes sense, but provides an authentic manner of speaking within one’s own mind.
On a deeper level, things don’t ever seem complete. There isn’t a whole lot to the plot and some of the concepts that are introduced aren’t fully developed. However, the chemistry between Holland (who remains closer to his Peter Parker persona here) and Ridley help raise the overall concept above another throwaway sci-fi adventure and the way the filmmakers portray the character’s thoughts is also well done. In the end, even though the film was in development for some time, it’s interesting and engrossing enough to keep your attention, even after you realize there could have been so much more had the script been honed a little further to explore the larger concepts in more refined detail.
Where Holland is given a chance to break free of his normal persona is in Cherry, where he becomes an enigma of camouflage in a film that relishes in the banality of the ordinary. Holland plays what is credited as Cherry, as I’m not certain they ever say his real name, the first indication that Cherry himself is nothing but a ghost in a world of billions. He’s just an average college kid who sometimes does recreational drugs and hangs out with his friends.
In the first moments of the film’s first chapter, Cherry meets Emily (Ciara Bravo), an attractive student who he has an instant connection with on a profound level. After a loving relationship that bonds them beyond time, Cherry tells Emily that he loves her. This scares her into moving to Canada for school, igniting an incredibly intense downward spiral, beginning with his enlistment in the army. This, then, culminates into severe PTSD, which leads to heavy use of Xanax and Oxycontin and a dangerous addiction that find him and Emily in dire straits for years on end.
Holland dives into this role with all of his soul, completely hiding in plain site, both literally and figuratively. Looking like a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt at the start of the film and Milo Ventimiglia’s younger brother by the end, the whole movie is based on the idea that Cherry, much like many other military veterans, are unrecognizable in the eyes of the neighborhood, the government and the world at large. So much so that Cherry can get away with pretty much anything because no one truly sees him or his pain. No one except Emily, who becomes locked into his destruction and refuses to let go, an addiction in itself hidden under the allusion of love.
It’s clear that directors Anthony and Joe Russo are digging into the idea of Cherry as a forgotten soul by naming the banks with non-descript monikers like “The Bank” or “Credit None” or by naming a VA doctor “Dr. Whatever.” In so doing, the Russo’s make it clear that not only is no one trying to help Cherry survive, but Cherry’s life is so mundane, simple and pointless, that he himself can’t even remember the names of things that don’t matter. (It’s also a not-so-subtle dig at the unresponsiveness and corruption of the banking and military services).
There are a few moments that focus on Cherry specifically remembering certain names and images (sometimes in a bit too artsy way for my taste) that invoke a sense of desire for hope that things will change, that in some way they will get better if he simply latches onto something that is completely out of his control. The only love he understands is the one he knows he is harming the most, and that in and of itself, pushes his own mental destruction until it becomes clear the only way to find happiness is to sacrifice himself to protect that love.
It’s in this performance (and in Bravo’s stellar performance as well) that allows Cherry to pull you into the nightmare of a life that has slipped through the cracks of bureaucracy and a world that many of us will never truly understand. It also proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that once Holland has left behind the MCU, he has a long, healthy career ahead of him that won’t be full of the same intelligent high-tech nerds in tights.
My Grades: Chaos Walking: B+; Cherry: A
Aside from a trio of secondary characters that take their roles a little too far outside of the tone of the rest of the film, Jennifer Garner’s new Netflix film, Yes Day, is a fun family comedy with a terrific family dynamic and some really strong performances by a trio of kids who take great advantage of their parents’ agreement to abstain from saying no for twenty-four hours. Listen to the full (Spoiler) review of Yes Day on Ramblin’ Reviews. A-
The comedy isn’t as sharp and the plot is a little weak, but Coming 2 America does provide its audience with some good moments of nostalgia and a few good moments that help guide you through to the finale; if only they had altered the reason for returning to Queens, New York, focused more on the Akeem’s (Eddie Murphy) daughter’s place in the royal lineage, and let go of its political correctness, the film might have risen to the same level as its classic predecessor. B
Next week, new movies include Courier, Food Club and Phobias. If you would like to see a review for one of these, or any other film out next week, please respond in the comments below.