6.5 out of 10
Chloë Grace Moretz as Cassie Sullivan
Directed by J Blakeson
The 5th Wave Review:
Chloë Grace Moretz and some cool alien destruction set “The 5th Wave” apart from other young adult novel adaptations, but it is still primarily teen fare.
This film is based on the young adult novel by Rick Yancey.
Cassie Sullivan was your average everyday teenage girl. That is until the alien ship came, then everything changed. The unseen aliens hit mankind with wave after wave of attacks, each different from the previous one and each decimating mankind. Cassie then found herself on the run in this apocalyptic world with her father and young brother Sam. When soldiers from a nearby air base arrive at their refugee camp, Cassie finds herself separated from them and on her own. As she makes her way to the base to reunite with her family, she must face alien drones, alien snipers, and hostile human survivors. But nothing will prepare her for the 5th wave of attack that the aliens have planned.
“The 5th Wave” is rated PG-13 for violence and destruction, some sci-fi thematic elements, language and brief teen partying.
Another year, another young adult novel adapted for the big screen. So how does The 5th Wave compare to The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, or the other YA novels hitting theaters? Well, they have many of the exact same elements – a reluctant heroine, tyrannical adults, a post-apocalyptic world, and a menacing love interest. But this film has the added twist of featuring aliens. And luckily, for me, that was enough to keep things interesting. I’d describe this as The Hunger Games mixed with Invasion of the Body Snatchers. I heard another member of the press describe it as “Twilight with aliens.” That’s also an accurate description.
The 5th Wave has one other thing that sets it apart. While those other YA films showed a post-apocalyptic world, this showed a pre- and mid-apocalyptic world. You see the world in its normal state with kids at parties, Cassie glued to her phone, teens in school, etc. You then see those same children and Cassie specifically thrown into the apocalypse and that stark contrast in their characters and situations. You get a greater sense of what they lost in the alien attack. As the story whittles away at everything they take comfort in – friends, family, social structure, security, technology, food, water – you’re right there along with them. That makes Cassie and her friends not only more identifiable than, say, Katniss, but more interesting.
The alien invasion angle also allows the creators to do something the others didn’t do – they get to destroy the world. And those scenes of alien destruction are some of the most engaging in the film. We see planes fall out of the sky, tsunamis, earthquakes, and more. Humans are ravaged by disease and attacked by drones and snipers. The only thing missing are zombies. So if you like disaster movies, this may appeal to you as it did to me.
Chloë Grace Moretz leads the cast as Cassie Sullivan. As we’ve seen in other films, she’s an excellent actress with talent way beyond her age. She manages to make Cassie seem like a realistic teenage girl who responds to these extraordinary situations in a (mostly) realistic way. She seems to be trying to follow in the footsteps of Jennifer Lawrence here, but time will tell if it pays off for her. In any case, she does prove that she can lead a film. Joining her is Nick Robinson as Ben Parish / Zombie. Oddly enough, his scenes are some of the more interesting in the film as we see him drafted to fight the aliens. He leads a band of children in guerilla warfare against the invaders. He’s an engaging character and part of the apparent future love triangle between himself, Cassie, and Alex Roe as Evan Walker. Evan is meant to be eye candy for Cassie as well as a bit of an action hero, and he serves both roles sufficiently. He’s not particularly charismatic, but there’s more to his character as we learn in the film. In one bit of surprise casting, Maria Bello plays Sergeant Reznik. She was completely unrecognizable in the role and I didn’t even realize it was her until I started writing this review. But her character is memorable, particularly for her heavy makeup which is unusual for an Army officer. The rest of the cast is solid as well, but the spotlight is definitely on Moretz and Robinson.
What Didn’t Work:
Despite the aliens, mass destruction, and post-apocalyptic terror, this is a teen romance at heart. Cassie fawns over Evan and Ben, there is the inevitable six pack shot of one of the guys, and there is the expected barely-contained sexual tension. If you’re over 17 and male, it will probably bore you. But then again you were never the target audience for this movie. This is, after all, “Twilight with aliens.” But if you’re in any demographic other than “teen,” you may not find this particularly accessible.
While the movie starts out strong with a lot of impressive visual effects and destruction, it quickly becomes apparent that the film blew its entire budget in those opening scenes. Two thirds of the movie is Cassie walking in the woods chatting to herself or to Evan. It becomes rather dull quickly. And when they do get to the big finale, it’s quite tame compared to the spectacular opening scenes. This weak finish ends the film on a whimper rather than a bang. Matters aren’t helped by the fact that the ending seems very, very rushed compared to the slow build of the rest of the story.
While a lot of this film is quite reality-based, logic does seem to be disregarded about halfway through the plot. The use of child soldiers makes you scratch your head a few times, especially when there are so many able bodied adults that seem to be around. And then the aliens are capable of intergalactic travel, devastating natural disasters, and bio-weapons, but then they seem to resort to stupid means to pick off the remnants of humanity. Their methods seemed more designed by a lack of movie budget or the desire to engage teens rather than the reality based approach that drove much of the rest of the film.
The Bottom Line:
If you liked The Hunger Games, Divergent or Twilight, then you’re a prime candidate to enjoy The 5th Wave. I think it’s worth checking out at least on TV if not in theaters. But if you find yourself burned out on or uninterested in teen post-apocalyptic fare, then there’s nothing here for you.