Review: The 5th Wave
PLOT:Without warning aliens invade the Earth and set about obliterating the human race. Among the few remaining is Cassie, once a normal teen but now a gun-toting survivor who must rescue her younger brother from a military base as he's trained to be a soldier on the front lines.
REVIEW: A gigantic spaceship sits in the sky ominously, a swirling behemoth that looks about 5x the size of Mount Rushmore. Surely, cause for concern, and indeed it's the talk of the town. But Cassie Sullivan (Chloe Moretz) sits in her classroom texting her best friend about the cute boy she's secretly in love with. That's a says-it-all scene in THE 5TH WAVE, a glaringly silly sci-fi romance based on a YA book series by Rick Yancy. I've heard that Yancy's first book (there are two out and a third on the way) is actually decent, but I can't speak to that. What I can speak to is the movie, which is neither good nor so-bad-its-good; it languishes in a state of banal mediocrity for 106 very long minutes.
After an interesting sequence taking place in the present day where Cassie shoots an unarmed fellow survivor of an alien apocalypse - the world is a shell of itself and most of humanity is extinct - the teenager via ho-hum voiceover explains how she arrived at this desperate state. Not long ago, she was the prototypical normal girl in a small town: she went to PG-13 parties, crushed on soft-spoken cute guy Ben (Nick Robinson from JURASSIC WORLD), looked after her kid brother and abided by her parents' rules. (No, I never knew any girls like this, but we'll roll with it.) One day, that giant spaceship disrupts everything, causing much scrambling around and frightened glances upward. It sits there a while, not doing much of anything, leading to that hilarious texting scene... and then the first wave hits: all the power goes out, everywhere. Then the second wave: tsunamis and massive flooding take out large chunks of the population. Most of the remaining survivors are killed off by the third wave, which is an avian flu that the otherworldly visitors - dubbed "The Others" - have engineered with maximum efficiency. After these three waves, the population of Earth probably rests somewhere around 1%, but the aliens aren't satisfied.
The fourth wave, we learn via a gruff colonel (Liev Schreiber) who offers refuge to survivors in Cassie's town, involves the aliens taking over human bodies and posing as us, allowing them to insidiously pick off stragglers. With that already in effect, an even more dastardly fifth wave is looming, although what that entails isn't revealed until the third act. Throughout this nightmare, Cassie makes a go of it alone in the wilderness, having lost her brother to the military - which plans on training him to be a soldier. While foraging along a car-strewn highway, she's shot at and almost killed, but rescue comes in the form of handsome (?) farmer Evan (Alex Row) who brings her to his secluded house for some patching up. She's wary of the stranger initially - he hides her gun, he reads her journal (gasp!) - but their predictable banter leads to hotter and heavier leanings. None of it is remotely hot and heavy for the audience.
Cassie's forced relationship with Evan is so obviously creepy that it's kind of fascinating to watch as the movie attempts to make their burgeoning romance not weird. Evan is, I think, supposed to be hunky and mysterious and slightly dangerous in that Edward from Twilight way, but he's anything but. It's revealed he has both stalked her and lied to her multiple times, and Cassie is only mildly concerned... as the rest of us roll our eyes and grimace at this disagreeable duo. No offense to Alex Roe, I'm sure he's a nice fellow, but he does not exude the charisma or charm needed to make Evan appealing; the character is odd and off-putting. When a wholly predictable twist about Evan is revealed it comes with all the excitement of a light nap. I kept thinking to myself, "Is this what teenagers are actually into? Even the most undiscerning teen must see through this nonsense." I suppose the box office will ultimately tell the tale, but my guess is that THE 5TH WAVE plays more like THE HOST than TWILIGHT.
The movie frequently cuts to the military base where the Schreiber character gives Patton-like speeches to his new recruits, all kids, and watch as Cassie's former crush Ben turns from disaffected dude to tough soldier on a dime and receives a squad to call his own. One of his charges, wouldn't you know it, is Sam (Zackary Arthur), Cassie's younger brother whom Ben takes under his wing. Another in his squad is take-no-shit badass Ringer (an unrecognizable Maika Monroe), who warns everyone to not stare at her ass and punches dudes in the throat so oh my god isn't she cool? Ben and Ringer's relationship doesn't amount to much, but it's a damn sight more interesting than anything going on between Cassie and the freaky farmer.
Directed by J Blakeson (who helmed the pretty good DISAPPEARANCE OF ALICE CREED), THE 5TH WAVE borrows liberally from both older, better sci-fi tales and other (better?) YA stories. As such it feels redundant and unoriginal. But what really stands out is how unimaginative it is. The aliens themselves aren't interesting at all; in fact, as characters they appear to be an afterthought. (If you're wondering, they're basically just brain slugs, burrowed into our skulls.) When they're hanging out together, they just act like jerky humans. No writer involved has given them any personality or distinctive character traits. Add to that: their big plot - the 5th wave of the title - is completely nonsensical. These guys appear to be over-thinking things; when they have the power to cause massive waves and killer diseases, their ultimate coup feels petty by comparison.
I'm sure the follow-up films - if they ever come to be - will delve deeper into the aliens' backstory and give them some depth, but that doesn't matter because a movie should stand on its own regardless if we're aware it has a sequel waiting in the wings. On its own, THE 5TH WAVE feels half-baked, and doesn't state a convincing argument for another installment, even as it tries to leave us wanting more with an open-ended conclusion. The script is a gigantic issue; its dialogue is clunky, its poorly paced and the whole thing appears to have been stomped into submission. The presence of three recognizable screenwriters (Akiva Goldsman, Susannah Grant and Jeff Pinkner) certainly indicates there was much trouble behind the scenes. I've heard that a lot has been omitted from the book, but whatever. No one cracked the case.
Chloe Moretz brings nothing to the table as Cassie, leaving it up to us to conjure up some interest in an already underdeveloped character. Beyond the multiple losses she suffers, there's hardly anything that makes Cassie stand out, and Moretz is just not up to the task of infusing her with vivid life. I don't dislike the actress, but she's pretty one note - always seemingly "acting." (She looks worried quite well, I'll give her that. Her worried face is on point.) Far more entertaining throughout is Maika Monroe, whose character is a total cliche but at least the screen feels alive when she's around.
The grown ups in the cast do what they can with very predictable characters; Schreiber can play laconic machismo in his sleep now, hence he's a perfect fit for a character who is compelling yet untrustworthy. Maria Bello hams it up as a sneaky sergeant who coerces the recruits into killing captured aliens. Ron Livingston sleepwalks through his uninteresting "nice dad" part, while Sons of Anarchy's Maggie Siff is given almost literally nothing to do as the ill-fated mom.