Starring: Chloe Grace Moretz, Matthew Zuk, Gabriela Lopez, Bailey Anne Borders
Directed by: J Blakeson
Although it sounds like some kind of surfer adventure, The 5th Wave is actually a young adult novel – a young adult science fiction novel, in that order. British director J Blakeson (The Disappearance of Alice Creed) and a trio of writers Jeff Pinkner (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) Akiva Goldsman (Star Trek Into Darkness) and Susannah Grant (Ever After) ramp up the teen romance of Rick Yancey’s 2013 book and treat the alien invasion as a pesky interference.
16-year-old Cassie Sullivan (Chloë Grace Moretz) is one of a group of dwindling human survivors in a world devastated by alien “waves” of systematic destruction by power loss, tsunami, disease, and massacre. One ordinary day, an enormous alien spaceship appears in the sky and it is (literally) “lights out” on Earth. The aliens come to be known as The Others; we never get to see them, or do we? This surprise is, unfortunately, painfully obvious.
Cassie loses both her parents (Ron Livingston and Maggie Siff) to waves caused by The Others. Her little brother Sammy (Zackary Arthur) has been swept up in a campaign of child soldiers defending the Earth from the ruthless invaders, under the leadership of stony-faced Coloel Vosch (Live Schreiber) and his sidekick, Sergeant Reznic (Maria Bello).
Naturally, a deep deception is afoot, and Cassie sets out to rescue Sammy (now renamed Nugget) from a training camp with the help of her high school crush Ben (Nick Robinson) and the hunky Evan (Alex Roe) a farm boy who rescues her from a sniper and bathes in a creek so his six-pack is on display. How these three find each other is explained by a convenient set of circumstances.
Ben (renamed Zombie) is actually the leader of the armed child-squad in which Sammy/Nugget is a member. He can lead Cassie to the boy. How he abandoned his squad is another tale that includes new recruit Ringer (Maika Monroe) a badass in raccoon-like eyeliner who insists that she’ll harm anyone who makes sexist remarks as the camera zooms in on her own ass, as seen by other juvenile recruits. “She’s cool,” exclaims Teacup (Talitha Bateman) a little girl with a big gun. Way to make a statement.
Farm boy Evan has a secret underneath all those abs and a beating heart for Cassie, which must be based solely on looks as she makes it clear that she never quite trusts him. Okay, after the six-pack glimpse she does, but just for a little while. Evan cares for a wounded Cassie after she is shot in the leg by an unnamed man with a gun, a commonplace occurrence in the new world order, we are led to believe.
Sooner or later, everyone converges on the training camp/headquarters where it is discovered that all the kids are being relocated. Cassie manages to find Sammy among the throngs, even though he is one of the shortest recruits, virtually hidden by taller “soldiers” surrounding him. Lots of convenient happenings in the rescue, but the important thing is that Ben and Cassie and Evan, who shows up suddenly and heroically through an air vent, are together so that the two guy-one girl ratio is preserved (see Twilight, Hunger Games).
It does not matter how any of these characters got into their predicament. It only matters that there are physical attractions, sudden kisses, and a do-you-like-me-box-yes-box-no relationship in the works.
The film objectifies both genders and delivers cringe-worthy dialogue to its protagonists, in some cases becoming a wave (nausea) of its own. Just because the world is fast-becoming Adolescent Central does not mean that everything has to be so…juvenile.
The adequate special effects are over by the 20-minute mark; much more pervasive is the possible relationship Cassie might have, will have, or desires to have with Ben, or Evan, or both. It’s just like going steady, weapons optional.
Chloë Grace Moretz is unusually adept at looking scared, or shocked, and does so for over half the film. Maika Monroe’s Ringer is the strong female role model, but she must portray a ball-busting stereotype to hammer that message home. Nick Robinson fits his character’s high school hero persona, and Alex Roe’s Evan is literally just a pretty face spouting clichés in some of the worst dialogue of the film.
Maria Bello is terribly miscast as Sergeant Reznic, sporting an inexplicably stuccoed-on layer of makeup and faux-hawked hair. That may be how The Others translate femininity on Earth. If so, masculinity comes across as a sullen, humorless robot, droning on in monotone platitudes “Make me proud, son,” – like Liev Schreiber’s Colonel Vosch. Maybe all those armed minors ARE the Earth’s last, best hope, saving us all from overdone cosmetics and unimaginative leaders.
The lackluster, unresolved ending screams for a sequel. Too bad the inclination is to scream back, but NOT in the affirmative.