By Chaz Lipp
The latest teen-oriented dystopian sci-fi epic, The 5th Wave has faltered at the box office, raked up mostly scathing reviews, and is unlikely to spawn a series of sequels the way The Hunger Games, Divergent, and The Maze Runner have. The source is Rick Yancey’s acclaimed YA novel of the same name, the first in a print trilogy (the third book is due later this year). Unfortunately, Sony/Columbia were overly confident, apparently believing a franchise was all but guaranteed. As such, The 5th Wave doesn’t have a remotely satisfactory conclusion. Rather than tell a complete, standalone tale, Wave plays like a long introduction to a story we’re unlikely to see resolved.
It’s a shame, because only during the final half hour or so does director J Blakeson’s film kick into gear. Early on we meet Cassie (Chloë Grace Moretz) and her family, including younger brother Sam (Zackary Arthur). Cassie is an unremarkable high school girl with an unrequited crush on jock Ben (Nick Robinson) and a strong relationship with her parents (Ron Livingston is dad Oliver). Cassie’s world flips upside down when space aliens, quickly dubbed “The Others,” arrive and – without any direct communication – begin wreaking havoc on the planet. Their attacks come in “waves,” the first being an EMP that knocks out electrical power globally. Devastating tsunamis follow. Then there’s an avian flu pandemic. “The Others” are clearly aiming to exterminate the human race.
During these early sequences, The 5th Wave offers a relatively ominous sense of impending doom. Despite some cut-rate CG and weirdly illogical moments, the set-up isn’t half bad. But once the early devastation subsides, leaving Cassie and Sam in a refugee camp, Blakeson loses his grip on the story. The siblings are separated after a Colonel Vosch (Liev Schreiber)-led military squadron takes over. Cassie is on her own, eventually winding up in the farmhouse of hunky Evan (Alex Roe) – who either rescued or captured her (or both). Sam is recruited by Vosch’s military. “The Others” have assumed human form and, for reasons never made entirely clear, only young children can be used to combat them.
I wanted to like The 5th Wave as a survival tale and showcase for Moretz, who does her darndest to build a character out of the thinly-written Cassie. During the too-brief segments that follow her solo quest, the film approximates the existential dread that buoys The Walking Dead. But the “kiddie commandos” storyline (during which Cassie’s crush Ben emerges, rebranded as “Zombie,” along with Maika Monroe as tough-as-nails Ringer) gets silly really quick. We’re also hit over the head with several “saw that coming a mile away” twists laced throughout act three. In other words, despite a committed cast and several striking visuals, The 5th Wave plays like a first draft that was rushed into production way too soon.
The 5th Wave Images: Sony/Columbia
A word about MoviePass, the movie theater subscription service that allows members to see a first-run theatrical release every single day for one monthly fee. That’s the card I wielded when seeing The 5th Wave – it looks just like a MasterCard debit card and it’s the best way for frequent moviegoers to save money at the box office. Visit the MoviePass site for more info!