‘The 5th Wave’ Review | Teen Dystopia #264
Upon entering the screening of J Blakeson’s new, very-much-a-January-release alien invasion flick The 5th Wave, I was meagerly unaware of Rick Yancey’s eponymous 2013 YA novel on which the film is based. Had I known that The 5th Wave belonged to this ever-growing genre – a genre marked by dull, irresponsible adolescent doomsday fantasies, often peppered with a wholly unwholesome military fetish – this critic would have perhaps been better prepared to consume it.
The 5th Wave, then, comes with its own standardized set of recent-yet-worn clichés about brave teens saving the world, the power of love, and a heroine who, despite a mild charisma deficiency, still manages to find herself torn between two of the hunkiest men on the planet. How will humanity survive an alien onslaught of plague, earthquake, and body-snatching? And will Cassiopeia Sullivan (yes, I’m afraid that is her name) choose her military-trained high school crush or the half-alien bohunk who stops the film dead in its tracks so that he may splash lake water down his bare, rippling abs?
Cassie is played by Chloë Grace Moretz, who, bless her heart, tries to infuse her character with a goodly dose of human vulnerability. Cassie bears witness to a gentle alien invasion wherein the aliens, nicknamed The Others, attempt to wipe out humanity with a mounting series of destruction waves. The first wave is a device that shuts off all the world’s machines (including car’s brakes, although guns seem unharmed). The second wave is a series of earthquakes and tidal waves that take out all the coastal cities (“I can only imagine what happened to the bigger cities” Cassie gravely intones, but then the audience is promptly treated to a lovely SFX sequence wherein Miami bites the dust). The third wave is a super plague. And the fourth wave is out-and-out body snatching.
The 5th Wave then cuts back and forth between two stories. In one, Cassie goes on the lam, hiding from aliens and shooting people out of fear. She eventually falls in with a superduper-handsome farmboy (Alex Roe) who bars all the trappings of the Flawless Rescue Stud; he can chop wood, tend to her wounds, survive in the wilderness, fight like a kung-fu master, and looks dash sexy with his shirt off. He’ll later reveal that she is just plain special, and the mere act of seeing her – sweet, blonde and vulnerable – did something profound to his insides. Yawn.
Meanwhile, Ben, a.k.a., Zombie (Nick Robinson) is drafted into an 17-and-under battalion of alien fighters, where he is trained to shoot body snatchers. Why kids? The body snatchers have a tougher time infecting the young. He falls in with a military general (Liev Schreiber), a heavily made-up ballbuster (a nearly unrecognizable Maria Bello), and a kick-ass guff-reflecting Goth named Ringer (Maika Monroe). Ben learns that being a gun-toter is cool, and the film has no sense of satire or irony depicting scene after scene of 7-year-olds firing AK-47s.
Eventually Cassie will be standing in a room with both Ben and her Übermensch farmboy. Despite being set upon by evil alien attackers, she’ll still have a moment of sexual astonishment that she has her pick of hunks.
Like many of recent YA movies, The 5th Wave possesses an unsavory pro-military message for kids; too many recent films have argued in favor of lockstep military training and a very particular brand of unfeeling violence as the only outlets for any and all vague teenage angst. I understand the subversive appeal of a kids-vs.-adults setup, and the transformation of oppressive adult figures into an easily combatable invading alien force can indeed be cathartic (see: The Faculty), but surely there are cleverer ways to indulge in those fantasies than what The 5th Wave presents.
But more frustrating than everyone-loves-me angle or the murder-is-good-for-you angle is the ever-frustrating sequel baiting. We live in an era where any and every mainstream blockbuster feels like the pilot episode of an ongoing series, and no story can ever conclude in any sort of satisfying way (Even the most recent Star Wars film suffered from this syndrome to an extent). This means that The 5th Wave ends before the 3rd act, and the characters have only accomplished a single minor task. There was a time when exploitation sci-fi teen flicks like The 5th Wave were 89-minute, R-rated cheapies that played in few theaters. There is more money in the new model. There was more fun in the old.
Top Image: Columbia
Witney Seibold is a contributor to the CraveOnline Film Channel, and co-host of The B-Movies Podcast. He also contributes to Legion of Leia, and Blumhouse. You can follow him on “Twitter” at @WitneySeibold, where he is slowly losing his mind.