The 5th Wave movie review: disaster movie, in more ways than one

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The 5th Wave red light

Lazy and trite, with a passive protagonist. It’s as if no one here understands the appeal of the postapocalyptic YA genre it is attempting to piggyback on.
I’m “biast” (pro): big sci-fi fan; desperate for stories about women; like Chloë Grace Moretz

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have not read the source material

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

And so we reach the point at which movies based on postapocalyptic YA novels have simply stopped bothering, and now just toss up on the screen a pretty heroine, a couple of hot guys, and an obstacle course of an adventure to plow through, and consider the job done. This one is so lazy and so trite that it is itself a kind of disaster.

Here, there have been four waves of attack on Earth by mysterious aliens hovering over the planet in gigantic ships. They haven’t communicated or started to steal our water yet or anything, but they are clearly intent on wiping us out. High-schooler Cassie (Chloë Grace Moretz: The Equalizer, If I Stay) has, unlike her parents, survived every wave so far; Dad is played by Ron Livingston (Vacation, Parkland), whose usual warmth and gentle humor has no opportunity to show itself. Cassie is trying to get back to her little brother, Sam (Zackary Arthur), from whom she got separated in a ridiculously contrived way. He’s now a child recruit in a new scheme the U.S. army has to combat the aliens — very Ender’s Game — and Cassie must get to the Ohio base where he’s being trained, and where, we see, everyone keeps talking about “the fifth wave” of attacks they presume is imminent. No one knows another wave is coming, so they should be saying “a fifth wave,” unless they actually realize they are characters in a story called The 5th Wave. Maybe they do: People discussing Important Things in clunky artificial ways is a hallmark of the movie. (Leaders at the army base played by Liev Schreiber [Creed, Spotlight] and Maria Bello [McFarland USA, Prisoners] fail to achieve even cardboard status, though it’s not for lack of trying. It’s difficult to imagine what either of these fine actors saw in the script, beyond an easy paycheck.)

It’s infuriating enough that Cassie, who narrates the film, tells us things she cannot possible know even though we don’t need to be told them, because we were privy to conversations that she was not. It’s infuriating enough that this is the sort of movie that thinks it can create suspense by ensuring that no one asks very obvious questions at very obvious moments, because if they did, it would ruin “surprises” to come. (The downright negligent script is by Susannah Grant [The Soloist, Charlotte’s Web], Akiva Goldsman [Insurgent, Winter’s Tale], and Jeff Pinkner [The Amazing Spider-Man 2]. The novel this is based upon, by Rick Yancey, is extremely well reviewed, so I’m guessing the problems here are the screenwriters’, not his.) It’s infuriating enough that this is the sort of wannabe gritty disaster movie that nevertheless ensures that although civilization has collapsed and there’s no running water or electricity (the first wave was an EMP that knocked everything out), hair conditioner and cosmetics remain in good supply and everyone is smoothly and smartly groomed at all times.

But it’s beyond unforgivable that the story strands Cassie, its protagonist, away from the significant action of the story, at the army base, and yet also neglects to make its plot pawns at the base anything like actual characters with story arcs of their own. Not even tiny ones. These include trainees such as tough girl Ringer (Maika Monroe: It Follows, The Guest) and Zombie (Nick Robinson: Jurassic World, The Kings of Summer), aka Ben, Cassie’s school crush who has, almost inconceivably, also survived thus far. Cassie instead is lumbered with an absurd romantic detour with Evan (Alex Roe), whom she meets on her travels back to Sam, in which her most important function is merely to inspire him to feel a thing that will be important to the story. For all her literal running around, Cassie is an annoyingly passive heroine, nowhere in the same league The Hunger Games’ Katniss or Divergent’s Tris. It’s almost as if no one involved with the movie — up to director J Blakeson, who is far more interested in how pretty Cassie is than what she can do — actually understands the appeal of the genre it is attempting to piggyback on.

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Fri, Jan 22, 2016 11:11pm

That’s what they meant by the title? I’ve read Future Shock, dash it all.

Maybe the scriptwriters took turns. One word each, in rotation.

Sat, Jan 23, 2016 5:16am

Her name is Maria Bello, not Mario.

MaryAnn Johanson
reply to  Catherine
Sun, Jan 24, 2016 9:27am

Oops! Fixed. Thanks.

Dr. Rocketscience
Dr. Rocketscience
Fri, Jan 29, 2016 3:26am

Didn’t we reach that point long ago? I mean, this was made after Beautiful Creatures and The Mortal Instruments, after all. Wait, those were YA fantasy novels. But, no, we’re two movies into The Maze Runner, so, yeah, well past that point. (I’ll just leave your oddly strong appreciation for Divergent where it is.)

Interestingly, I’m pretty sure Liev Schreiber is playing the role Donald Sutherland would have played 15 or 20 years ago. And doing the same workman-like job at it.

The movie has continuity issues is what I’m saying. Like Cassie’s occasionally debilitating leg wound. Or how the interior of Cassie’s family home is pristine, even though just outside the door the rubble is still strewn across the neighborhood from the 10 foot flood waters. Or how no one thought they might cure Ringer’s “discipline issues” by merely taking away here endless supply of eyeliner.

Dora Breckinridge
Dora Breckinridge
Fri, Jan 29, 2016 7:47pm

I haven’t seen this, and gave up the book partway through (I was SO bored of the romance), but I remember being really surprised that the trailer made it look like she was being trained to fight by the love interest. What made the book (initially) interesting was how good she was at surviving and fighting on her own… she knew how to fight, how to hide, how to survive. Not at, like, Buffy the Vampire Slayer levels or anything, especially since I don’t recall her being trained or anything, but this was a tough-as-nails girl who was digging in and fighting every step of the way and really determined to die trying to do the impossible. Someone who may not have a lot of skill or training but is determined to do what she has to. It was kind of refreshing in a “you don’t have to be some sort of mythical chosen one to survive and be a hero” kind of way.

Again, I quit the book after the love interest got introduced (and seemed to quickly become the focus… I also had issues with how quick she was to trust him and get flustered by him given events), so maybe he DOES end up hauling her around and making her more competent and doing the heroics, which would be disappointing. But the movie had the potential to really give us a cool post-apocalyptic story about a girl going above and beyond in ways that are typically reserved for men (after all, there are SO. MANY. stories about male leads surviving post-apocalypse of any kind and saving people), and it’s a shame they didn’t deliver.

Larry Kelly
Larry Kelly
Sun, Aug 14, 2016 3:16pm

Was okay up to the second wave.