Synopsis – Four waves of increasingly deadly alien attacks have left most of Earth decimated. Cassie is on the run, desperately trying to save her younger brother.
My Take – Seriously how many of these young adult fiction books are there? Over the past few years we’ve had an excessive amount of books made into movies like The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner, The Giver, Divergent and Twilight along with their respective sequels. As long as they make money at the box office, Hollywood shall continue to make them. And no sooner has The Hunger Games been laid to rest than another dystopian sci-fi franchise is born with this big-screen adaptation of American author Rick Yancey’s warmly received young-adult page turner. I have to say beforehand that I have not read the trilogy by Rick Yancey. I hear that this film adaption follows the novel pretty closely. It seems that Yancey himself was somewhat involved in the making of the movie as he visited the set and such, and pretty much gave his approval. Survival besieged by sentimentality in an end-of-world scenario seems to be the driving theme in an ever increasing list of young adult films. Yet this film seems like a pointless save the world mishmash that feels like a mentally ill offspring between Independence Day and Red Dawn, but without any redeeming qualities from the parents. The film starts off promisingly but then becomes another generic teenage film with an uninspiring romance subplot and some good looking action scenes. This adaptation of Rick Yancey’s sure-to-be-a-trilogy page-turner brings nothing new to the table. It has a first act with some sweet apocalypse stuff, but is largely ruined by second and third acts that feature far too many script contrivances and icky declarations of teenage love. With both Maze Runner and Divergent series following a similiar suit, all this film manages to to do is bring left overs to the table in an already crowed pound party.
Low key and already lacking in originality, shoddy writing further adds to incoherence and chaos. If that’s not bad enough, spoon feeding the narrative dissolves what little mystery there is, resulting in a telegraphed ending. This becomes even more disappointing with the inclusion of seasoned actors like Liev Schreiber and Maria Bello whose only role is authoritative figures. But even they can’t save a film as absurd as the idea that only kids can save humanity from total annihilation. The story follows Cassie Sullivan (Chloe Grace Moretz), a normal teenage girl living happily in Ohio with her father (Ron Livingston), mother (Maggie Siff) and brother, Sam (Zackary Arthur). Their lives change when aliens aka the others invade Earth. The aliens inflict wave after wave of attack: the 1st wave refers to electromagnetic pulses being disabled resulting in a loss of communication and transportation; the 2nd wave is a flurry of natural disasters; the 3rd wave is an airborne deadly virus transmitted by birds; the 4th wave is the alien species inhabiting humans like parasites. The adults are separated from the children and the US army led by Colonel Vosch (Liev Schreiber) is taking control of the situation, placing children in quarantine so they can assist in fighting the alien species. A stage that leaves a small number of survivors in the care of camouflage-clad soldiers on a military base. Cassie’s high-school crush, Ben Parish (Nick Robinson) is one of them but she is on her own, and knows nothing of this. Cassie finds herself isolated from her peers and must fight her own battles. Her primary objective is to try to find her little brother, Sam (Zackary Arthur), from whom she has become separated. A mysterious stranger, Evan (Alex Roe) saves her life, but she has difficulty trusting him. At this point, the film opens out, as the focus moves from Cassie to Ben, and to a new group of teenagers struggling with expectations placed on them: they are being trained to become warriors against the invaders. Many viewers will undoubtedly realize what more is happening, well ahead of the characters, but that’s not necessarily a flaw in the film-making – it’s an indication of their vulnerability as much as anything else. There are some clunky or abruptly compressed revelations, and Evan’s flashback story is dispatched far too quickly. Yet the situation that develops, in the final stage of the film, in which a group of teenagers are forced to begin to trust each other, to find a way forward, is an intriguing one. It’s not so much a cliffhanger, more a set of possibilities that are about human nature rather than science fiction scenarios. The plot is tense and exciting but that’s just for the first act of the film. The second half isn’t on par with the first one. Somehow the story falls apart midway through the movie. Many events feel too rushed and less creative once Cassie and Evan are heading for the military base. The movie then becomes a weird mixture of elements and ideas from “Divergent”, “Star Ship Troopers” and even “Full Metal Jacket” and the finale and final scenes are very similar to “Tomorrow When the War Began”. I don’t know if the filmmakers realized all that but it just seems like they got too much inspiration from too many sources, and in the end they doesn’t work very well. Evoking everything from Independence Day and The Road to Starship Troopers and Red Dawn – in addition to almost every YA sci-fi offering – this film will surprise nobody, introducing a procession of stock-character types into well-worn narrative arcs. The third act reveals are obvious from the get-go, while the prospect of sequels to come couldn’t seem less enticing.
By the time the film wraps up we get a few revelations about the nature of the threat (I’ve left the fourth wave alone because it’s a nice bit of business if, again, not too original), a bit of action and spectacle, and a big, danging sequel hook because, hey, these things come in threes (with the third split into two in order to wring more money out of the fan base). But to its credit, the film’s modest ambitions are ultimately its strongest asset. Aside from a few obligatory ‘money shots’ of recognizable skylines taking an extraterrestrial pounding, it presents a grounded perspective of these cataclysmic events. While the likes of The Hunger Games, Divergent and Maze Runner expend too much energy developing their ridiculous dystopias, complete with archaic hierarchies, ultra-modern aesthetics and utterly incomprehensible vocabulary, This film at least has a recognizable reality going for it. Chloe Grace Moretz is developing into a terrific actress if she hasn’t reached that level already. She is convincing as the teenager who must make her own decisions when her family is no longer around to support her. It is kind of refreshing to see a young adult dystopian movie that features a heroine who has no special powers, is not a chosen one or such but just a normal girl trying to survive. The two actors who play her love interests, Nick Robinson and Alex Roe, are both devilishly handsome but their roles could be played by any young, unknown Hollywood heartthrob. Liev Schreiber adds integrity to the production and can always be relied upon to hold the fort in the acting stakes. What surprised me is that I didn’t find Maika Monroe very convincing in her role as Ringer. I appreciated her recent performances in “The Guest” and “It Follows” but didn’t fully buy her tough act here. It seemed too forced. On the whole, ‘The 5th Wave’ is is a glossy, polished product that won’t actually stand out in the overcrowded dystopian fantasy genre but warrant for a satisfying weekday viewing. Satisfying meaning the performance and the effects are great with one obvious gripe, you have to pray for two more sequels to know the outcome of Cassie’s fate. There are quite a few clever ideas in this film but the execution could have been much better. If you’re a fan of young adult fiction, you won’t be too disappointed but for people who have seen many movies, there’s nothing new which will cause you to leap for joy.
Director – J Blakeson
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 112 minutes