After the massive success of The Hungers Games, movie studios have been trotting out what they believe will be the next big film adaptation of a young adult novel. Specifically, they are looking to capitalize on female driven stories that are either post-apocalyptic or fantasy. From The Mortal Instruments to the Divergent franchise these films have failed both financially and critically to match or surpass The Hunger Games, and this mediocrity is once again propagated by The 5th Wave.
The 5th Wave is more of a science fiction focused film than the other fantasies or dystopias, but the formula stays the same. Aliens arrive on Earth, but their invasion hesitates initially. Cassie (Chloë Grace Moretz) tells us the history of the invasion through a voiceover after she has just killed a man in a well-looted convenience store. She explains that first the alien ships arrived and hung silently in the sky. For a while their intentions are not clear, but then the waves of assaults on humanity begin. The 1st wave attack is an electromagnetic pulse that wipes out all electronics on the planet. Planes fall from the sky, cars crash, and cell service stops. Ignoring the fact that combustion engines would, in fact, be fine, this first wave devastates the world and completely severs communication. From there the other waves continue to drive down the population until it consists of a few scattered cells of survivors. After Cassie’s mother dies in the 3rd wave (mutated avian flu) the family decides to leave their home and join one of the groups living in the woods. When a simple mistake separates Cassie from her younger brother Sam (Zackary Arthur), and her father (Ron Livingston) gets mixed up with an unfriendly military element, she sets out on her own to find her brother.
While the lead-up to the beginning of Cassie’s mission is quite quick, it’s sadly the best part of the film. Watching the invasion play out in stages is interesting and—being unfamiliar with the books—surprising at times. It does not make logical sense for the invasion to be so prolonged and complicated, but it does make for a curious film. As Cassie heads out to find Sam, the film slows down to the point of barely crawling along. Even after Cassie runs into a dreamy college student who takes care of her wounds, and even as we see what the military is up to with Sam and Cassie’s crush from school, the film drags. Each time a character gets into any sort of trouble and it seems like the film might get interesting again, they are ceremoniously rescued at the exact right second. The convenience of these rescues eliminates any tension in the film after it becomes apparent that no other characters will be killed off. This safety relaxes the audience back into a state of boredom, once again.
Another major weakness of The 5th Wave is the visual effects. The film never looks better than a matt painting and a low-budget computer effect. With aliens invading Earth and creating major natural disasters—the 2nd wave—I expected the visuals of these catastrophes to truly shine, but they barely entertain. We have seen much better waves and earthquakes in lesser films, and are a more sophisticated audience because of these previous experiences.
Though I do honestly respect the high body count and willingness to kill major characters—both gambles for teenage films—the plodding, pacing and sub-par effects prevent The 5th Wave from moving beyond its middling status.
Director: J Blakeson
Chloë Grace Moretz,
Film Length: 107 minutes
Release Date: January 22, 2016
Distributor: Columbia Pictures