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cultural vandal | by maryann johanson

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

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.


red light half a star

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The 5th Wave (2016)
US/Can release: Jan 22 2016
UK/Ire release: Jan 22 2016

MPAA: rated PG-13 for violence and destruction, some sci-fi thematic elements, language and brief teen partying
BBFC: rated 15 (strong violence, injury detail)

viewed at a public multiplex screening

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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