A film review by Craig J. Koban January 29, 2016

THE 5TH WAVE j
½

2016, PG-13, 112 mins.

 

Chloë Grace Moretz as Cassie Sullivan  /  Nick Robinson as Ben Parish  /  Alex Roe as Evan Walker  /  Liev Schreiber as Colonel Vosch  /  Maika Monroe as Ringer  /  Maggie Siff as Lisa Sullivan  /  Zackary Arthur as Sammy Sullivan  /  Talitha Bateman as Teacup  /  Tony Revolori as Dumbo

Directed by J Blakeson  /  Written by Susannah Grant, Akiva Goldsman, and Jeff Pinkner

THE 5TH WAVE is one of the dopiest alien invasion films that I’ve seen as of late.  

It also just might be one of the most lazily derivative, seeing as it seems to be lamentably cherry picking some of the most overused concepts and ideas from countless other past – and better – sci-fi genre films without even knowing that it’s being somewhat plagiaristic.  

The film is based on the young adult novel of the same name by Rick Yancey, and as to how faithful it is to the source material I cannot say.  What I can say is that THE 5TH WAVE starts off with relative promise and is backed by a strong lead actress at the helm in Chloe Grace Moretz, but her very presence and performance good will is squandered in the overall execution of the material.  This film becomes aimless, dull, and laughably preposterous in equal measure…a lethal three-way combination for any sci-fi effort. 

Directed with a relatively unsure hand by J. Blakeson (THE DISAPPEARANCE OF EMILY CREED), THE 5TH WAVE contains a stellar opening sequence that does a decent job of hooking us in right away.  In a fairly nerve-wracking moment, we see teenager Cassie Sullivan (Moretz) wandering through unspecified locations that are apparently abandoned.  She’s packing an assault rifle and a backpack and is all alone.  As she stumbles upon a deserted gas station and gathers necessary food and water, she comes across what appears to be a wounded and needy young man…that might be concealing a weapon.  She quickly shoots and kills him out of fear…only afterwards realizing that he was unarmed and helpless.  The film then flashes back to a time when Cassie was not a gun-touting and itchy trigger fingered post-apocalyptic wanderer.  She was, by all accounts, a normal adolescent high school girl driven daily by youthful pursuits, like hanging our with her friends and pining after hunky boys like Ben (Nick Robinson). 

 

 

Things change, though, for Cassie and the world when a vast alien spacecraft arrives on Earth…hovering over her city.  Soon afterwards, the aliens (which humanity has dubbed rather plainly as “The Others”) begin to launch multiple attack waves to take over the planet,  First, the Others knock out all electricity on Earth, knocking humanity back to the Stone Age.  Secondly, the extra-terrestrials create multiple natural disasters that cause Tsunami-like waves to flood the coastal cities of the world.  Then comes a genetically created version of the Avian Flu that the E.T.s drum up to further wipe out what’s left of mankind.  Cassie and her little brother (Zachary Arthur) find themselves without parents and much hope in the world, especially after the military swoops in – under the leadership of Colonel Vosch (Live Schreiber) – and evacuates the camp, citing the aliens’ abilities to occupy human hosts and pass and humans.  Cassie gets separated from her sibling, the latter being taken away to a secret governmental facility that trains surviving kids to become alien battling warriors.  Determined to return to her brother, Cassie allies herself with a new companion in Evan (Alex Roe), whom (a) looks mighty good without his shirt off and (b) has some…shall we say…unique abilities that allows him to easily take out alien enemies with relative ease. 

THE 5TH WAVE is sort of refreshingly restrained – at least during the opening stages – when it comes to detailing the alien invasion.  Aside from a few special effects sequences (done with some decidedly iffy-looking CGI), the film never really shows us aliens, nor is it really interested in INDEPENDENCE DAY levels of action and world decimating destruction.  THE 5TH WAVE seems at ease early on dealing with a paranoid humanity that doesn’t know what to make of their new visitors and then later struggling to survive a hostile enemy that they don’t understand (nor have they even seen up close and personal).  On those levels, THE 5TH WAVE stands a bit apart from the numerous alien invasion films that have come before it and tries – albeit unsuccessfully – to get into the psychological headspaces of its characters first and dish out man versus alien spectacle a distant second. 

Alas, the film is so burdened by so many stale and borrowed sci-fi troupes that it frankly appears like it’s not even trying to be original throughout most of its running time.  The central premise of aliens using humans as hosts has been done repeatedly throughout the years in multiple INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS films, which more than makes its inclusion here as a prevalent story beat all the more eye-rollingly lame.  Then, of course, we have even more hackneyed young adult melodrama subplots thrown in, like the obligatory love triangle between Cassie, Ben, and Evan that’s so underwhelming and lacking in genuine passion that we have to pinch and remind ourselves while watching the film that we have to actually give a damn about these people.  Without giving too much away, the character of Evan is one of the most unintentionally hilarious characters on a level of pure plot convenience that I’ve seen in any recent film: He’s limitlessly good looking, a sweetheart to Cassie’s needs, and has an impressive knowledge of advanced fighting techniques and weaponry that makes him unstoppable.  When the screenplay elaborates on this fairly enigmatic character you just want to throw your hands up in the air and scream “C’MON” at the screen. 

Concurrent to the wobbly subplot involving Cassie and Evans’ partnership is a larger one revolving Ben and Cassie’s brother being mostly forced against their wills to become young soldiers to face off against the invaders from the stars.  Ben himself gets cozy with a resident bad girl soldier named Ringer (IT FOLLOWS’ wonderful Maika Monroe, caked with dark eye makeup and trying her best to look hard edged).  Now, THE 5TH WAVE at this point could have gone down some potentially enthralling thematic paths about the morality of using and brainwashing child soldiers and the ethical political quandary of the ends justifying the means against an unfamiliar adversaries (which could have tapped into multiple real world parallels), but this film has none of that.  By the time it culminates in a positively head-scratching climax that strains modest credulity…I essentially tuned out and didn’t care anymore. 

And, for crying out loud, when did it become in vogue for films to not have a definitive beginning, middle and end?  THE 5TH WAVE is yet another frustrating example of a film that essentially contains a non-ending and annoyingly exists as a place holder for future installments when it really should have focused all of its creative energy on being a strong self-contained entry that makes us yearn for more.  Beyond obvious hints are dropped at the end of the film for upcoming sequels, leaving THE 5TH WAVE feeling cobbled together and largely unfinished as a whole.  I felt bad for Moretz all throughout this film, seeing as she’s a competent and headstrong young actress that gives a thanklessly credible performance here amidst all of the sheer ludicrousness that transpires around her.  THE 5TH WAVE is sadly indicative of the typical January release fare that gets unceremoniously dumped at multiplexes every year: unimaginatively banal genre entries that fail to spark even a modicum of interest in their inherent material.  The best thing I can say about this movie is that I simply won’t remember it a week from now.  

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