The 5th Wave and all the images you see in this review are owned by Columbia Pictures
Directed by J Blakeson
I’ve been able to avoid a lot of the Young Adult adaptations until now. Never saw a Hunger Games movie, any of the Divergent films, not even The Giver. I can’t avoid these films forever though, so here I am reviewing the latest entry into the genre. Could it possibly be one of the better examples though? Well they released in January, so I’m gonna say no but I have had at least one surprise this month with The Boy. Hope for the best but expect the worst I guess.
The movie begins in an idyllic all American town where Cassie Sullivan (Chloë Grace Moretz) is living the Teenage American Dream, i.e. partying, meeting boys, and being the perfect daughter for their parents. Okay, technically the movie begins AFTER all this, but we flashback within five minutes of the movie starting. Anyway, things are going great for Cassie until the Earth is visited by a bunch of space ships that just hover overhead. No communication from the aliens; no attacks; no nothing. The aliens are dubbed The Others (I guess we ran out of ACTUAL proper nouns to use) and their silence doesn’t last forever as four strange events (which are called Waves) happen around the globe. Electricity goes out, natural disasters occur, and it all ends with most of the population decimated and fighting for survival against the aliens who are finally revealing themselves but look just like humans. Now in all this chaos, Cassie loses both her parents and her younger brother (Zackary Arthur) is drafted by the military to fight the alien menace. I mean, there are PLENTY of adults around or even older teenagers, but the military is taking in the kids too. I guess shit gets real once the aliens start attacking. Cassie however is none too thrilled about all this and resolves to walk her way to the military base in order to get her brother out of it… somehow. On top of all this, the boy she liked in high school Ben (Nick Robinson) has also been conscripted and is now her younger brother’s commanding officer (I guess he has seniority being sixteen and all) and on her way to the base, some mysterious guy named Evan (Alex Roe) saves her ass and decides to help her on her journey. Will Cassie save her brother from the military industrial complex? What secrets is Evan hiding from Cassie? What is the fifth and final Wave that the aliens are planning for humanity? Has anyone actually read this book!?
I guess it’s not a terrible movie, but this is so diametrically opposed to everything that interests me in terms of fiction that I could not care one bit about the story or its characters. It’s a post-apocalyptic story (the sad kind, not the fun kind) with a teen love triangle and has bad guys so god damn poorly conceived that they “don’t believe in love” (this movie doesn’t believe in writing apparently), AND it has actors I really like who are completely wasted in cookie cutter roles. Hell, the only way to make this LESS appealing to me is to throw in zombies or maybe some religious proselytizing.
I feel that tragedy is right up there with comedy on the list of things that are really hard to get right. More often than not (especially in post-apocalyptic movies), the tragedy comes off as manufactured and undeserving. If a movie want to tug at my heartstrings than it has to fucking earn it (*cough* Star Wars *cough*), and this movie didn’t even come close to that. The entire first act is all about bad things happening as the first four waves hit with no explanation on how the aliens cause them, and the movie insists we should care about all the destruction they cause but we don’t. The first wave cuts out all electricity on the planet, presumably through some sort of EMP blast, but it’s one of those movie EMPs where it has the ability to affect EVERY ELECTRONIC THAT EVER EXISTED, and doesn’t take into account that electronics that are unplugged or have the batteries out of them could potentially survive. They also don’t go into the fact that cars WITHOUT electronics can still work if the battery is replaced, which either means the survivors are too damn stupid to think of that, or the aliens are using MAGIC to fuck with us and took out all the batteries on K-Mart shelves as well. This is exactly why I’m not a fan of apocalypse movies whose sole purpose is to show people suffering. If a movie wants to sell me on this being a shitty situation, then they have to work for it, and skipping over OBVIOUS solutions so as not to deprive us of drama (or using hand wave explanation so we can avoid those solutions) is gonna immediately put it on my shit list. You can’t tell me that humanity is at its most desperate and fighting every inch for its own survival, to then have them NOT do everything they can to survive like change a fucking battery!
The next two waves are earthquakes and the bird flu on steroids which I guess are fine ways to cull the human population, but it doesn’t make sense for the aliens to WANT to do this considering what we find out later, and the last wave (before the titular one) is an invasion of the body snatchers situation where rumors start to go around that aliens are taking the form of humans. This is true by the way so as not to get your hopes up for an interesting (if a bit worn out) twist about human paranoia. So what we have is an apocalypse that conveniently kills most of humanity, destroys all their modern day devices, and gives them even MORE reason to not trust one another. I can’t be the only one who thinks this is overly contrived, right? That though is the boring part with Chloë Grace Moretz. We haven’t even gotten to the STUPID part yet! The movie is split between not-Katniss wandering through the woods and her younger brother training in the military to fight the aliens with high school hunk Ben. I would like to point out that the younger brother is no more than ten years old, which I GUESS is supposed to be shocking when he starts going through military level training but comes off as laughably ridiculous. If a SWAT team made up of twelve year olds holding M-16s walked up to my house, I’d be laughing my ass off. I’d say it could potentially be offensive to the real life child soldier problem, but this is so fucking stupid that you can’t even take its own messages seriously, let alone the unintended ones. Oh, and the military allowing Maika Monroe to dress herself up like Pauley Perrette from NCIS? Sure. Whatever…
There is one element in here that I think could have been a hell of a lot more interesting if they had done more with it, and it’s with the character of Evan who is the second dude in this love triangle. Now this is a bit of a spoiler, but to discuss the character’s strengths and weaknesses properly, I do have to bring it up (there’s still at least one big twist that I won’t be revealing here even though I should because it’s VERY stupid). He’s somehow half human and half Other. Wait, maybe he’s all Other and was adopted by humans? Honestly, they aren’t all that clear about that point (though I’m sure the book goes into great detail about it) but that doesn’t really matter because we’ve got a woman trying her damnedest to survive in this world and save those she loves while being protected by this alien tough guy. Hell, that’s basically the premise for Jupiter Ascending which I think is an amazing film! The problem is that they barely scratch the surface with his characters, the implications of his lineage, and the relationship that he has with Cassie after this is revealed. He has powers and can fight off other Others, and there’s SOMETHING approaching chemistry between the two if they could just have some time to develop it and if the filmmakers were willing to make something the tiniest bit less chaste. Like almost every other aspect of this movie though, it’s half-baked and has no idea where it wants to go so it just stays as middle of the road as possible.
As with all bad movies, we must take a moment to consider if there’s anything of value. It’s cinematography and effects are… competent. It doesn’t look great, but it accomplishes what it needs to and there really isn’t anything to point out as noticeably bad in its look. It’s just kind of drab and bland, but I guess that was what they were going for. They’ve got Maria Bello and Liev Schreiber in here playing army toughs and while they don’t have much to do other than play stereotypes, they are the definitely the best actors in this. Sadly the same can’t be said for Chloë Grace Moretz who doesn’t have much to work with yet is expected to carry this damn thing on her shoulders. She’s just an uninteresting character whose only defining traits are thrust upon her due to the circumstances of the world she’s living in. I don’t see what makes her story worth following compared to every other human being who’s still out there. That said, I actually liked how underplayed the love triangle is, as Cassie doesn’t even know Ben is still alive until almost the end of the movie. I’m guessing there’s gonna be plenty of dick measuring contests between Evan and Ben in the next movie, but there aren’t any in here.
Adaptations are already a pain to levy criticism against, especially when the property being adapted has barely cracked its way to the main stream. As we dip deeper and deeper into the well that Twilight originally built, it gets harder and harder to talk about these films in their entirety as so many of them come out each year. Maybe the book fills in all the necessary gaps that I feel are missing, especially in the first act where humanity is reduced to post-apocalyptic stragglers in a matter of no more than a month. Hell, can we honestly say the Harry Potter movies don’t suffer heavily from pacing issues that we forgive because everyone on Earth has read the books? There’s a balance that needs to be struck between making a movie and being faithful to the book, but too often the latter will outweigh the former, and this is just another example of that. All of this is more than likely falling on deaf ears to those who read the book and want to see the movie, but then who is this going to appeal to other than that? There are better post-apocalyptic movies, there are better love triangle movies, and there better movies that any actor you care about in here was in. It wants a sequel and it might just get it, but this is yet another series that we can all just ignore until it runs its course.
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