Film / Reviews

'The 5th Wave': Not quite on the crest of YA action films

by Kaori Shoji

The good news is that since the “Hunger Games” series of films, the young-adult (YA) action film genre is officially not only a thing, but also a Hollywood force to be reckoned with. The bad news is that not all YA movies are made equal, but the duds are still likely to spawn sequels.

“The 5th Wave” is one of those duds. Yes, there are some powerfully riveting moments and hordes of extremely watchable, athletic youngsters, but director J. Blakeson’s film is a paint-by-numbers job that also leaves the ending, predictably, just hanging there. The initial reaction is “Huh?” swiftly followed by a mental calculation of when “The 5th Wave 2” (or maybe “The 6th Wave”) will likely come out to tie up the loose ends.

For those suffering from “Hunger Games” or Jennifer Lawrence withdrawal symptoms, Cassie Sullivan, the heroine of “Wave” played by Chloe Grace Moretz, is not quite a satisfying substitute for Katniss. In fact she’s a huge disappointment. Not that this is Moretz’s fault — she does a very capable job given the material she has to work with — but alas, her lines (written by Susannah Grant, Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Pinkner) are plodding and uninspired, and the crucial action scenes are left mostly to the boys.

The 5th Wave
Rating
Run Time 112 mins
Language English
Opens APRIL 23

Through it all, Moretz looks fabulous, as if she just took a dive into a pool of high-end hair products and lip gloss. Very nice for her, but that’s not what YA heroines are supposed to be like. They’re supposed to get dirty, ache, break ribs, run kilometers through sleet and pierce bad guys’ hearts with arrows.

But then the film’s storyline (adapted from Rick Yancey’s 2013 YA trilogy of novels) feels more like a marketing presentation than an on-screen adaptation. “The 5th Wave” features familiar sci-fi trope: the apocalyptic end of the world, deadly global viruses, body-snatching and more. There are flashes of “Independence Day,” “The Day After Tomorrow” and “Biohazard.” Consequently, too much happens in the nearly two-hour movie, yet very little is resolved or even coherently explained.

It’s as if J. Blakeson and Co. didn’t trust the source material (which, incidentally, got terrific reviews) to be eventful enough, and the sad mismanagement of Moretz’s talent indicates that perhaps the director had no real grasp of what makes the YA genre entertaining, or even what it is really about.

This is the gist of it: One day, Cassie, an ordinary teen in Ohio, leaves the house to go to school with her kid brother Sam (Zackary Arthur) and she kisses her parents goodbye. This is the last “normal day” she will ever see. That afternoon an alien invasion of Earth begins as giant spaceships hover over the planet and launch four attacks. First there are power blackouts, then an earthquake and tsunami destroys the world’s major cities, the third attack is a deadly virus and in the fourth, aliens take human form to pick off anyone left behind.

The fifth? It’s yet to materialize.

Cassie and Sam manage to survive the four waves of destruction, but young Sam is torn away from her. Cassie swears to get him back and enlists the help of the mysterious Evan (Alex Roe). Evan is roguish, which attracts Cassie, but she also still holds a torch for her high-school crush, Ben (Nick Robinson), who has joined a squad of teenagers to fight the aliens, aka the Others, under the command of a Col. Vosch (Liev Schreiber).The action factor does wind down considerably at this point to awkwardly shift the focus to that teen dilemma of “Which guy will the girl choose?”

There’s nothing wrong with a bit of ordinary teen angst, but Cassie and the two guys are so well-groomed, “The 5th Wave” starts to resemble a prom party with an alien disaster theme — no favors to the YA genre there.

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