The 5th Wave (2016) / Sci Fi-Action
MPAA Rated:PG-13 for violence and destruction, some sci-fi thematic elements, language and brief teen partying.
Running Time: 112 min.
Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Alex Roe, Liev Schreiber, Maria Bello, Maika Monroe, Zackary Arthur, Ron Livingston, Tony Revolori
Director: J Blakeson
Screenplay: Susannah Grant, Akiva Goldsman, Jeff Pinkner (based on the novel by Rick Yancey)
Review published January 23, 2016
Chloe Grace Moretz (Dark Places, The Equalizer) stars as Ohioan teenager Cassie Sullivan, who we first meet in a post-apocalyptic world fighting for her survival. We flash back to how this world came to be, starting with the appearance of a massive alien spaceship in the sky. After four waves of cataclysmic "plagues" that include such things as tsunamis and a deadly virus, human beings begin to suspect that "the Others" are trying to take the planet and don't want humans on it when they do. Dealing with the separation from her family through a variety of mishaps, Cassie finds herself caught in the middle of a fight between the Others, who've been able to take over human bodies, and the last survivors of Earth, in a world where it's unclear who to trust.
The "5th Wave" of the title could just as easily be applied to the "fifth wave" of YA properties that have been churned out in an effort to replace The Hunger Games in the teens-who-save-the-world-in-a-dystopian-future mini-genre of films, with the Divergent series, the Maze Runner series, Ender's Game, and Sony's previous failed attempt, The Mortal Instruments, possibly representing the first four. Of these, The 5th Wave seems most in line with the formula of Ender's Game, which features a similar plot of Earth's highly adaptive kids being trained by the military to lead the attack against an enemy alien force, as well as raising the thematic questions of just who are the bad guys in the scenario.
The 5th Wave is the second feature film directed by J Blakeson, whose previous effort came out nearly seven years ago in the mostly forgotten small-time thriller effort, The Disappearance of Alice Creed (it failed to make $200,000 US). Curiously, Columbia/Sony has given this relatively inexperienced filmmaker nearly $40 million to try to kick-start a new, major franchise, taking Rick Yancey's favorably-reviewed novel published in 2013, whose rights were quickly scooped up by Sony without much care as to its quality despite the book series trilogy being unfinished. Blakeson isn't a bad director necessarily, but one would gather that there were some incredibly tight strings from the producers to deliver a product so derivative of the aforementioned YA properties that anything new, novel, or subversive had been sanded off in the development stage in order to give audiences a regurgitation of the same things found in these other, more notable films.
In other words, The 5th Wave is like trying to market a new brand of cola line in a world that already has Coke and Pepsi, but foolhardily tries to make it tastes exactly like those instead of trying to give their product a flavor that differentiates it from what has come before.
Like The Hunger Games and Divergent, the makers of The 5th Wave cast a popular young actress with decent dramatic range in Chloe Grace Moretz, who clearly is the best thing about the film altogether, much like Jennifer Lawrence and Shailene Woodley are for their respective series. However, their star is relegated to the sidelines for large chunks of the film because of the bifurcated plot that asks us to follow what's going on with Cassie's young brother Sammy (Arthur, Pals), who ends up at a military base that has, in one of the film's most easily read tells, the electricity and running vehicles that the rest of humanity seems to lack. The secondary storyline also beefs up the backstory of Ben Parish (Robinson, Jurassic World), Cassie's high school crush, who becomes a hero in his own right in leading Earth's final defense against the Others, but unfortunately, the acting is spotty at best when Moretz is off screen, even with the presence of veterans like Liev Schreiber (Spotlight) and Maria Bello (McFarland USA), who fail to elevate the film by their presence due to their thinly defined, one-note characters.
But what YA dystopia property would be complete without a second potential love interest for our heroine? Yes, in addition to Ben, a wounded Cassie is saved and cared for by a wood-chopping, lake-bathing dreamboat of a local farm boy named Evan Walker (Roe, The Calling), whose combat skills are as impressive as his six-pack abs. With humanity on the brink of extinction, introducing hunks for Cassie (who always looks as beauty-salon fabulous as everyone else in this world despite not having an adequate shower or shelter for weeks) to ogle, makes us think that the filmmakers aren't taking their plots very seriously, erasing what little tension there is for audiences who are already struggling to find something to latch on to in order to get them interested in where things will end up at the finish.
The screenplay credits include such heavy hitters as Oscar-nominated Susannah Grant (The Soloist) and Oscar-winner Akiva Goldsman (Insurgent), along with TV-vet Jeff Pinkner, who co-scripted a prior Sony property in The Amazing Spider-Man 2. It's not incompetently made, but it is largely generic in its plot, and the forced nature of the superfluous romantic elements occasionally pushes The 5th Wave into the realm of the laughable. It also very much feels at times like the pilot to a TV series more than it does an apocalyptic alien-invasion flick, especially as it leaves all of its major story threads unresolved by the film's ending, obviously setting itself for future entries that may never come if the film fails to be lucrative. Given that we get no closure to the story, and we're uncertain if we ever will, there's not much point in wasting one's time getting to know these cardboard characters and investing our interest in a plotline that's only 1/3 resolved. Fans of these kinds of properties are better off sticking to the books.
©2016 Vince Leo