Movie review: Teens left to battle alien invasion in ‘5th Wave’
–By now there are a few staples every year at the box office. We’re going to get a half dozen superhero movies. We’re going to get at least a half dozen low budget horror films, and at some point during the year a new “franchise” based on a popular young adult novel is going to be released.
With “The Hunger Games” done and the “Divergent” series near its end, it makes sense that studios are looking for the next big thing. Into that fray comes “The 5th Wave,” based on the novel from Rick Yancey. It has all the hallmarks of these types of films — end of the world stakes, a female protagonist in her teens and a love triangle.
But it’s hard to know how the studio feels about “The 5th Wave” and its chance of success. It was unceremoniously dumped in January — not a typical time for building a film franchise — and opened in sixth place. The film ends in a spot to set up future installments, but it’s hard to know if those will actually materialize.
The film centers on Cassie (Chloe Grace Moretz), a high schooler living a simple, quiet life. Or at least she was until a strange craft appeared over the earth. Soon, it’s clear the visitors — or others as they’re referred to — have plans for the planet that don’t include its current inhabitants.
A series of waves occur. The first is an EMP that destroys electronics. Then comes the earthquake that destroys a good chunk of the major populations. A third wave includes disease that wipes out even more people. Then a fourth wave includes the others taking over human hosts and fighting hand-to-hand.
As the remaining survivors prepare for the next wave, a group of soldiers arrive, led by Col. Vosch (Liev Schreiber). He leads the children to safety, but in the process the adults are killed. Cassie is separated from her brother, Sam (Zackary Arthur), and has to fight over open country to get to him.
Along the way Cassie meets Evan Walker (Alex Roe), who offers to help, but things aren’t what they appear to be as Cassie is in a race against time to get to her brother before the 5th Wave strikes.
In seeing the previews for this film, I didn’t know what to expect. I figured there was a reason it landed in January, and dismissed it as a film that wouldn’t deliver. While it’s slow at times, I was pleasantly surprised by the way the film is put together. It’s not great, but it’s interesting and it made me curious to see how the series would continue if given a chance.
Moretz isn’t really an ideal lead for this type of film. These YA series seem to turn on having a compelling lead actress. Jennifer Lawrence does that for “The Hunger Games” and Shailene Woodley does the same for “Divergent.” Moretz is great in certain parts, but she’s not the obvious choice for this type of role. She does OK as Cassie, but you can’t help but wonder what someone else might have done in the same part.
The rest of the cast is really populated by mostly unknown actors and actresses. Maika Monroe — who was the lead in “It Follows” last year — is good in a supporting role, and Schreiber makes a good foil in the primary adult role. But the film struggles to really establish the other characters.
This feels like a story that is probably more compelling on the page than it turns out to be on screen. It feels like there are explanations for things that don’t make it into the movie, which leaves someone who hasn’t read the book with plenty of questions throughout the film.
This movie is better than you might expect from trailers, but not as good as other YA series. Given its performance at the box office it might not get a chance to develop, but if it does I could see this becoming more compelling as it goes forward. For now, we get an OK introduction to the characters and the world, and a film that feels like it serves to set up something better.
“The 5th Wave” has been rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association of America for violence and destruction, some sci-fi thematic elements, language and brief teen partying.
Two stars out of four.