Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: J Blakeson
Stars: Chloe Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Live Schreiber, Maria Bello, Ron Livingston, Alex Rose, Zackary Arthur, Maika Monroe, Tony Revolori, Terry Serpico, Talitha Bateman.
The 5th Wave is the latest adaptation of a bestselling Young Adult novel to hit the screens. But unlike those other recent YA franchises set in a dystopian world – The Maze Runner, The Hunger Games, Divergent, etc – The Fifth Wave is set in the present day in a recogniseable and familiar world. With its story about a group of teens fighting back against a threat to our world, the film resembles the 1980s classic Red Dawn and Tomorrow When The War Began.
A mysterious alien race, known simply as the Others, invades the planet, intent on wiping out the human population and claiming it for themselves. As the mothership hovers overhead, the aliens unleash a wave of catastrophic events aimed at decimating the population. First there is an electromagnetic pulse that wipes out all power and communications; then there are a series of tsunamis and natural disasters, which is followed by a virulent strain of bird flu. The fourth wave sees the aliens move amongst us in human form. The fifth wave is supposedly a series of devastating attacks on the human population in major cities.
The central character here is Cassie Sullivan (played by a suitably feisty Chloe Grace Moretz), who is charged with protecting her younger brother Sam (Zackary Arthur, from tv series Transparent, making his feature film debut here). The family are temporarily relocated to a rudimentary survivalist camp. But when they become separated and he is taken to a nearby military base along with other young survivors Cassie sets out to find him. She slowly makes her way across a hostile and dangerous terrain, unsure of who she can trust. Along the way she is wounded and nursed back to health by the impossibly handsome survivalist Evan Walker (the hunky Alex Roe), who agrees to helps her. But how far can she trust this mysterious stranger?
Meanwhile on the military base, ruthless army commander Vosch (Liev Schreiber) is training teens to become a fighting force to take the fight to the aliens and take back the planet. There is also a touch of the recent Ender’s Game to this premise. Amongst these troops is Ben Parish (Nick Robinson, from Jurassic World, etc), the handsome captain of the local football team who Cassie has a crush on, and the tough as nails rebellious Goth Ringer (Maika Monroe, from It Follows, etc). Using high tech visual gear the teens are supposed to be able to recognise the parasitic Others passing as humans. But Ben soon discovers that there is something even more sinister happening here and that Vosch himself has another agenda.
Yancey’s novel has been adapted by a trio of writers that have good pedigree and who have dabbled in the sci-fi genre before, including Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich, etc), Akiva Goldsman (I Am Legend, I, Robot, etc) and television writer Jeff Pinker (Fringe, Alias, Zoo, etc). The film adheres to the generic formula established by superior examples of YA literature, although The 5th Wave is a little darker in tone. The influences are obvious and The 5th Wave ticks most of the boxes of the genre. The teen variation on the paranoid Invasion Of The Body Snatchers theme of aliens walking amongst us in human form has also been explored in Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty, which was something of a guilty pleasure and a lot more fun than this dour effort. But such a premise was also the driving force behind the short lived 60s tv series The Invaders.
This grim post-apocalyptic alien invasion action thriller is a change of pace for British director J Blakeson, whose previous film was the claustrophobic thriller The Disappearance Of Alice Creed, a three handed psychological kidnap drama that largely played out in one confined setting. The 5th Wave plays out on a larger and more ambitious canvas, but Blakeson’s pacing is a little uneven. A couple of the key action sequences are well handled, and the CGI effects are passable if not particularly spectacular. There is a lack of subtlety to the material, and the film is also a little too violent for its target audience.
Those early scenes depicting the disasters seem a bit rushed, and we get no real sense of the threat posed by the aliens. Maybe this was handled better in the book. And the longer the film goes on the more questions it raises that can’t be satisfactorily answered. Much of the film seems to be setting the scene for the next couple of instalments in the franchise. With films of this kind a healthy suspension of disbelief is often required, but there is so much here that stretches credulity that the film ultimately falls apart. Much of the film itself becomes increasingly illogical. Why does no one question how the military has restored power so that they can drive vehicles and light up their airbase, but are unable to help the survivors establish power in their small enclaves? How is the survivalist Evan able to sneak into a supposedly secure and heavily guarded military base and plant bombs? The climax itself seems cliche ridden.
Moretz demonstrated her action heroine bona fides as Hit Girl in Kick Ass, and here she makes for a plucky, resilient, quite formidable and feisty character in a similar mold to Jennifer Lawrence or Shailene Woodley as an angst ridden teen who evolves into a capable freedom fighter. She also gets to show a more vulnerable side to her persona with the cliched Twilight-like love triangle.
While the younger performers carry the weight of the action, the adult performers are left to do what they can with underwritten roles. Schreiber again delivers a solid performance as the enigmatic Vosch and although he brings gravitas to the screen, he is mostly a cliched, one-dimensional villain; Ron Livingston makes the most of his small role as Cassie’s sympathetic father, and Maria Bello is wasted in a thankless role as Reznik, a military scientist.
Like so many other YA adaptations, The 5th Wave is fairly cliched and formulaic, although it has a strong built in fan base, who will probably enjoy it. The first instalment in a trilogy, it will be interesting to see whether the film has the legs to become another successful franchise or whether it will go the way of some other YA titles such as I Am Number Four or the Alex Ryder series, which failed to impress audiences and consequently never made it past the first film. Don’t hold your breath waiting!