If you thought that the genre of young adult apocalyptic movies was petering out with the final Hunger Games movie in 2015, think again. Despite significantly lower returns for their respective sequels, both the Divergent and Maze Runner series are coming back to finish their trilogies. And now we can add a new one to the mix with The 5th Wave.
At least this one — which, as they all are, is based on a book series — brings a little something new to the table. Instead of humans separating into groups and turning on one another, The 5th Wave revives an oldie-but-goodie: the alien invasion. Cassie (Chloë Grace Moretz), along with her family and the rest of humanity, is caught off guard when spaceships invade the atmosphere.
The unseen aliens then bombard Earth with four waves of destruction. The first is an electromagnetic pulse that knocks out all electricity. The second wave triggers earthquakes around the world, effectively drowning anybody on islands or along the coasts via the resulting tsunamis. The third is a virus spread through birds, and the fourth is the inhabitation of some humans to kill off others without them knowing their attackers are aliens.
The first half of the movie details these four waves, and thanks to a screenplay by the powerhouse trio of Susannah Grant, Akiva Goldsman, and Jeff Pinkner, it’s actually pretty compelling. Where the story goes wrong, ironically, is when it has to deal with the titular fifth wave and children are turned into soldiers to take out the remaining surviving humans.
I guess that could be considered a spoiler, but there’s never a doubt where the movie is headed. Taking a cue from The Hunger Games but somehow making it worse, kids as young as 5 are outfitted in uniforms and given guns. This is supposed to be deadly serious, but seeing them suited up and trying to act like badasses elicits a mixture of laughter and pity.
Meanwhile Cassie, who escaped being turned into a soldier and is trying to survive on her own, runs into a hunky, mysterious guy named Evan (Alex Roe), injecting romantic tension into a movie that doesn’t need it. Nor does it need the triangle that develops when she reconnects with her high school crush, Ben (Nick Robinson).
Pompously-named director J Blakeson can’t keep the momentum of the first half going, taking weird narrative leaps that remove any suspense the film had. His jumpy style does no favors to Moretz, turning her more into a damsel in distress than the hero she’s shown to be in other films.
The other recognizable actors in the film are hit and miss. Ron Livingston and Maggie Siff make the most of their short screentime as Cassie’s parents, but Maria Bello is near insufferable as a Southern-fried army sergeant. Liev Schreiber falls in both the good and bad camps as the main bad guy, Colonel Vosch, with hammy scenes overshadowing the subtler ones.
The 5th Wave is not completely awful, but it should earn very little praise. Just like its genre forebears, it doesn’t really deserve any sequels, but with two more books to adapt and more money to be made, you can expect to see them in the coming years anyway.