MOVIE REVIEW: The 5th Wave

(Image courtesy of Columbia Pictures via EPK.TV)


Thanks to the "Harry Potter," "Hunger Games," and "Twilight" series, we have had an over-flooded movie market of young adult novel adaptations with more forgettable failures than winning successes.  Because we have reached an oversaturation point, the questions necessary for any new entry looking to get a piece of the pie are: What can you offer that is different and what makes you necessary?  Though it tries, "The 5th Wave" cannot answer the bell with convincing responses.

Based on the first book of author Rick Yancey's trilogy, "The 5th Wave" takes place in a post-apocalyptic present day where normal trendy life is changed by the arrival of an enormous alien spacecraft (ala "District 9") that has descended into our sky above the state of Ohio.  The unseen aliens, deemed "Others," have begun their invasion in methodical and dominant waves.  By knocking out the global power grid, unleashing disastrous tsunamis on coastlines, and releasing a modified avian flu, the population of Earth has been decimated.

Our pretty, journal-writing narrator through this ordeal is Cassie Sullivan, played by headliner Chloe Grace Moretz.  She, her father (Ron Livingston), and younger brother Sam (Zackary Arthur) have survived the first three waves and have joined a makeshift refugee community.  When the might of the remaining military shows up, led by Liev Schreiber's Colonel Vosch, they reveal that the Others have begun a fourth wave, this time infiltrating human hosts as brain-latching parasites.  Since detection is easier among the young, Vosch and his soldiers are evacuating children and teens to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base outside of Dayton, Ohio.  

With dwindling numbers of able-bodied adults, the hundreds of assembled kids, including Sam and Ben Parish (Nick Robinson), one of Cassie’s former high school classmates, are being trained as soldiers to prepare for the fifth wave of full invasion.  Cassie and Sam become unfortunately separated in clichéd “stay here/I’ll be right back” fashion.  That dilemma compels Cassie into survival mode to make the dangerous cross-country hike, aided by a mysterious rescuer hunk named Evan Walker (Alex Roe), to reunite with her brother.

Beginning as a post-disaster film, “The 5th Wave” accelerates its world-building premise in a reasonably compelling fashion.  The transition of watching characters shift from normal lives to dire survival and combat circumstances gives the film a “Red Dawn”-meets-“Independence Day” feel.  For the first half-hour, the film exhibits a decent grip on your fearful attention and piqued interest.  Moretz is not the worst protagonist in the world and we know “Jurassic World” and “Kings of Summer” star Nick Robinson can be someone watchable.  Cassie thankfully resists all of the overplayed Millennial whining and angst we’ve become accustomed to thanks to the Katniss Everdeens and Beatrice Priors of the movie world.

After that so-so start (“promising” is too strong of a word), the intelligence of “The 5th Wave” devolves quickly and repeats too many YA tropes from other and better works.  Once Vosch tries to quote 1 Corinthians 13:11 in an “Ender’s Game”-like effort to soldier kids up in “sir-yes-sir” fashion, the cartoonish mistakes take over.  No one is going to take tactical gear-wearing, elementary school-age kids with pretend-intimidating codenames and armed with semi-automatic weapons seriously. 

It fails further by the time Cassie is shoved into a “Twilight”-ish love triangle.  In a venture of saving grace, “The 5th Wave” delivers quite a big swerve that changes the perspective of the entire conflict.  The film certainly deserves credit for the attempt and the twist serves as the catalyst for desired sequels, but it is not enough to redeem what was already wrecked.

LESSON #1: REMEMBER THAT NOTHING SHOULD TAKE AWAY YOUR HUMANITY-- Invasion/post-apocalyptic movies in this genre prey on our inate fears of societal collapse and pose their "what would you do" scenarios through approachable characters.  They seek to remind us to hold humanity dear and hope that we never have to utter phrases like "nothing is safe anymore."  

LESSON #2: KIDS DON'T MAKE GOOD SOLDIERS-- Don't let the movies and propoganda fool you.  Sure, young people are moldable, but the overwhelming majority of them are ill-prepared and out-matched physically and emotionally for anything involving a battlefield.  Honestly, from an exploitative standpoint, it would be really nice if young adult fiction could stop weaponizing children.