Ever since Katniss Eversden arrowed her way into pop culture stardom and right to the top of the box office charts, film studios have been clambering over each other in a madcap attempt to find the Next Big Thing in the YA genre. But despite the fact that no new challengers have come even remotely close to emulating either the critical or commercial success of the Hunger Games franchise, that hasn’t stopped the Hollywood bigwigs from trying. There’s been a veritable slew of these films in the last few years, adapted from more YA fiction featuring young female leads, and almost universally they have been terrible. And I’ve seen all of them.
If you were fortunate enough to have not shared my totalitarian cinematic misfortunes (a painful necessity of this job), don’t worry because thanks to The 5thWave, the latest copy-pasted entry in the YA sci-fi genre, you can catch up on all the ridiculous post-apocalyptic plot devices, unconvincing romances and sloppy genre tropes you’ve been missing out on all in one 112-minute long condensed package of mediocrity.
The setup this time around is an alien invasion that plays out like Independence Day-lite, giant spaceship in the sky and all, except instead of decimating the planet in one fiery assault these mysterious “Others” play the long game, attacking in waves. Leisurely. First they cripple Earth’s technology with an EMP, a few weeks later they cause tsunamis and drown half the cities, and eventually mutate bird flu into an even deadlier pathogen that wipes out most of humanity. And just as the scant survivors start to scrape together the vestiges of human society, the 4th Wave starts: The Others infect and take control of human hosts, walking among the survivors, causing chaos as paranoia and distrust sets in.
Caught up in these End Time calamities is high schooler Cassie Sullivan (Chloe Grace Moretz). After losing her mother and best friend to the bird flu, and her to said paranoia, Cassie is the only person left to take care of her young brother Sammy (Zackary Arthur). Except that goes very poorly as she’s accidentally separated from the military bus that Sammy and all the other kids are placed in by a remnant US military faction led by the gruff Colonel Vosch (Liev Schrieber), bound for a local military base that is supposed to offer safe harbour.
Now armed with nothing but her wits and some pilfered weapons, she has to set out on the road by herself to find Sammy before the inevitable final 5th Wave hits, signalling the end of humanity as we know it. Along the way she runs into Evan Walker (Alex Roe), a mysterious loner who seems to know a lot more about what’s going on than he should. A suspicious Cassie doesn’t trust his offer to help her reach Sam, but, oh man, just look at those washboard abs, chiseled jawline and sparkly green eyes… Swoon!
Meanwhile Sammy, along with hundreds of other kids, including Cassie’s old high school crush Ben Parrish (Nick Robinson), have found themselves swept up in the military’s plans to use children to battle the Others. Because, yes, that’s a good idea. One ridiculously rapid training montage later, and these kids – half of whom are so tiny that they carry weapons longer than they are tall – have been whipped into fighting shape! Equipped with special equipment that allows them to identify Others in human form, they’re ready to join the fight to take back their world. Except there’s something a little fishy going on here. Cue intrigue!
Now if I’ve given a bit more plot details here than I usually do in my reviews, it’s mainly because I can guarantee that you’ve either already seen every single narrative beat that The 5th Wave has to offer – love triangles, duplicitous persons of authority, kids on the road forced to make hard choices, etc – in other movies before. The difference is that here they’ve just been done very, very, VERY blandly. Unlike some other recent sci-fi YA entries genre, The 5th Wave doesn’t even have the decency of its genre in being ridiculous enough to warrant some shiny “WTF?!” entertainment (see: Hunger Games, Divergent, Maze Runner and other franchises with gapingly implausible post-apocalyptic scenarios).
Everything just chugs along at a mediocre flatline. And that includes the script by highly regarded and usually very reliable Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind, I Am Legend), Jeff Pinkner (Fringe, Alias) and Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich, Pocahontas), which offers no surprises other than how silly it is in places. Director Jonathan Blakeson helms with a journeyman’s presence – not doing anything criminal, but certainly not doing anything remarkable either – and certainly isn’t helped by unconvincing CG effects and unimaginative action setpieces (although you will need your imagination for the final action beat’s headscratching use of explosives).
And the same meh-ness goes for the film’s principal cast as Moretz, Schrieber and Robinson all punch below their weight here, just going through the motions without any real vitality. So too the romantic chemistry between Moretz and either Roe or Robinson, which is practically inert. Recent indie breakout star Maika Monroe (The Guest, It Follows) shows up to try and occasionally snap us out of the lethargy with an attitudinal turn as crackshot teen soldier Ringer, but the script just makes it feel as if she’s trying too hard.
But even with all this lack of cinematic ambition or flair on display, it’s clear though by the time you reach the film’s limp-wristed half-conclusion that the studio execs over at Columbia Pictures are eagerly rubbing their palms in anticipation of launching The 5th Wave as a big franchise starter. Based on this first entry though – and the film’s fitting middling box office opening in the US – I’m fairly certain they can wave those plans goodbye.
Last Updated: January 28, 2016