Poorly-paced, predictable, and teeth-gnashingly cheesy in moments of “high” emotional drama, The 5th Wave is representative of Hollywood studios doing the worst possible disservice to an author and a popular novel series in its efforts to bring the novel’s story to the screen. While the sci-fi backdrop of the film’s story brings a great deal of potential for original suspense, what happens in the foreground is teen-romance-by-numbers, resulting in a wholly uninteresting and underwhelming cinematic experience.
Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass, If I Stay) plays Cassie Sullivan, a middle America teen whose most standout qualities prior to the end of the world as she knows it are that she’s actually a good, sweet girl who follows the rules, gets home before curfew, and enjoys tucking her little brother Sammy (Zackary Arthur) in at night by singing him to sleep. But her “normal” life, as well as the normal lives of everyone else on Earth, comes to a crashing halt with the silent arrival of “the Others”, aliens who, upon their arrival, at first simply hover ominously above the planet in space ships the size of cities. But within days the invaders begin their onslaught upon humanity in catastrophic “waves”, the first three of which decimate the planet’s population.
Cassie, Sammy, and their father Oliver (Ron Livingston) survive the first three waves, and are among a small group of survivors who believe their salvation is at hand with the arrival of U.S. Army Colonel Vosch (Liev Schreiber) and troops from a nearby Air Force base. But Cassie’s encounter with Vosch and his men heralds the fourth wave, and is the real beginning of her survival story, not the end, as soon she finds herself separated from Sammy, alone in the wilderness and hunted by the Others, who seek to eliminate the last remnants of Earth’s once-dominant species.
Determined to re-unite with Sammy, Cassie carefully makes her way across a now-desolate and lifeless landscape toward her only clue to his whereabouts, while Sammy himself, along with hundreds of other children and teens, including Cassie’s one-time classmate crush Ben Parish (Nick Robinson, Jurassic World) find themselves facing their own test of fortitude, as they are tasked with nothing less than becoming soldiers and driving the Others from the planet. But can any of them — Cassie, Sammy, Nick, or their fellow survivors — trust anyone or anything, including each other, in their efforts to simply survive?
The script for The 5th Wave, by scribes Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich), Akiva Goldsman (I am Legend) & Jeff Pinkner (The Amazing Spider-Man 2), is by far the weakest link here, as it fails to even once deliver a twist or a plot turn that doesn’t feel obligatory to the genre and the target audience. First-person narration by the main character to retain character interiority and the feeling of “reading” the story, the likable, easily sympathetic every-girl main character who must find inner strength and fortitude she didn’t know she had, a love triangle (or, at least, the beginning of one), and an ending that naturally points to sequel films — it’s all here, and in addition to it all unfolding seemingly at half-speed — The 5th Wave clocks in at under two hours but feels more like three — now, in the post-Twilight, post-Hunger Games glut of films derived from profitable YA properties, it all comes off as uninspired, regardless of the talent on screen attempting to make that material compelling.
Speaking of that talent, it’s worth noting that they do their with what they’re provided. Chloë Grace Moretz is certainly no stranger to action at this point in her career, so she handles the physicality necessary demanded by the role of Cassie with comfort and ease. She’s also a performer of considerable acting skill, which she demonstrates over and over again in The 5th Wave while making even the silliest, most contrived scenes, most of which center on the film’s main romantic subplot, even remotely watchable. Meanwhile, Nick Robinson, who spent most of his screen time in last year’s Jurassic World either in moody-teen-mode or running for his life from CGI dinosaurs, gets to show a bit more dramatic range, as he capably handles the change All-American football star and good guy Ben undergoes, transforming into the guy his squadmates come to know as “Zombie.” As for Liev Schreiber, his talents are hardly challenged here. He’s asked to be charismatic, complex, and intense — hardly a stretch for the actor who leads the cast of Showtime’s “Ray Donovan” every season.
Put all that together, and you have in The 5th Wave a film that underwhelms in every measurable way. The novel, which was published in 2013, got its sequel, “The Infinite Sea” in 2014, and the conclusion of the series, “The Lost Star” is due out later this year. If the result of this production and its high box-office bomb potential has anything to do with it, however, it’s quite unlikely that the film series will enjoy the same longevity.
The 5th Wave
Starring Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Ron Livingston, Maggie Siff, Alex Roe, Maria Bello, Maika Monroe, and Liev Schreiber. Directed by J Blakeson.
Running Time: 112 minutes
Rated PG-13 for violence and destruction, some sci-fi thematic elements, language and brief teen partying.