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‘The 5th Wave’ (2016) Review: Another Dystopian Wasteland

In this adaptation of the popular YA series, an alien ship enters Earth’s orbit and attacks the planet in successive waves that wreak utter havoc across the globe, wiping out whole cities, killing millions upon millions as the survivors wait for the next assault, they call The 5th Wave. Yet another teen movie where adults are inept, people speak in absolutes, and everything is draped in loose metaphors, The 5th Wave has a few good, if not boilerplate performance but unfortunately, is a dull, overly-familiar story that is quickly forgettable.

I’ll be clear from the start that I have not read the books this film is based on. This is a film review and so shall be judged on that merit alone, no matter how closely or how far (which I suspect is more likely) it sticks to the source material. Modern popular YA books and their movie adaptations seem to be stuck in a terrible rut these days with exactly the same theme running through them with plots that require nothing more than replacing the central obstacle, be it a maze, a hunger game, a social faction, or an alien invasion, each set in a dystopian world. The 5th Wave clings to that tired formula with a frightful grip, clearly afraid that any deviation from the recipe will wholly ruin the meal.

To understand the shallow depths at which the film insults the audience it aims for, we need only begin with how the hero’s story is put into play. She is Cassie Sullivan (Chloë Grace Moretz), a teenager who survives the first wave of an assault by “The Others” (a name so not what we would call an alien invading force but one entrenched so deep in sci-fi dogma it almost feels mandatory), an electromagnetic pulse that wipes out all electrical devices, shutting down power. Next comes earthquakes and tsunamis. After that is a plague that takes care of most everyone else. The fourth wave is sniper attacks (I guess). The last wave is infiltration. Aliens are able to take over people and live among us. Those that make it are huddled in camps waiting for someone or something to save them. In one of these camps is Cassie, her father, and her little brother. She lost her mother in the third wave. The army shows up and separates the children from the parents, putting the kids on a bus. That’s where Cassie and her brother end up, but of course he doesn’t have his stuffed bear, which he left in their bunk. He simply won’t go without it, having a fit in clear view of at least four soldiers standing at attention around the bus. Cassie then runs out of the bus, in full view of the soldiers (who are there specifically to load children onto it) and heads for the tent, which is right behind the bus. This is when the bus starts and the driver decides to leave. The boy on the bus starts yelling to stop. Cassie starts yelling for the bus to stop. The bus doesn’t stop. Instead, we get the obligatory face in the glass and lots of screaming.

This is the film’s approach throughout, passively walking through every single trope in the genre with no enthusiasm, no humor, and no joy for the characters we’re meant to rally behind. Let’s consider Evan (Alex Roe). He’s a survivor who lives in the farmhouse near the woods. He rescues Cassie after she is attacked on the deserted highway. He bandages her leg and nurses her back to health even though she is angry at him every step of the way (until the script says she must become attracted to him). When he is unaware, she bolts and trips a wire that rattles some pots hanging in the trees. He catches up and jumps on her just as an alien drone passes overhead and a lone figure with a rifle appears in the near distance and then disappears into the shadows. Evan says that they are combing the woods looking for survivors. But wait? They aren’t going house-to-house? The answer to this is pretty obvious, but neither Cassie nor the audience is meant to think about it. And truthfully, this reveals a plot hole that exposes a larger problem with story, which sees an alien force trying to wipe out humanity in possibly the worst hostile invasion since M. Night Shyamalan‘s Signs. What benefit does it serve the aliens to use humans as hosts if their only ambition is to destroy humans? We’re told they could anyone, anywhere, but why? If they are among us, what are they waiting for? Cassie writes in her journal that one way to exterminate humans is to rid them of their humanity, a line that desperately tries to sound bigger than it is.

But Cassie is only half the story. We also follow her little brother Sam (Zackary Arthur), who ends up in a military camp since it’s up to the children to save the Earth because of course it is. It is lead by the token famous adult actor that populates these films, in this case Liev Schrieber, who doles out his obligatory speeches with proper intimidation. Maria Bello shows up, too, briefly, in a fun bit, transparently giving away the ‘twist’ for anyone watching closely. In this camp, Sam is assigned into a squad with Ben Parrish (Nick Robinson), a boy who Cassie once had a crush on. They are trained to be soldiers in an army to defend against the invaders. Kids. Some so small the guns are larger than they are. They are given technology that allows them to see the aliens, then dumped into a battle zone where they engage in shootouts.

Now, everything I just wrote is supposed to be answered by the compulsory ‘twist’, yet the twist in The 5th Wave is no twist at all only attempting to duplicate the complexities of an Invasion of the Body Snatchers movie but stops at the premise. Moretz does an admirable job with what she is given, but is forced to remain blank, never fully convincing us that she is a teenager in the situation she is in. She emotes when the screenplay demands it, but does little more. I really don’t think this is her fault, as she is an excellent actor, but trapped in a hopelessly tepid story. Director J Blakeson manages to creates some believable post-apocalyptic settings, though none are anything we haven’t seen before in dozens of other films (a highway strewn with hundreds of abandoned and overturned vehicles must be a Hollywood requirement in this genre).

The entire experience is so manipulative and contrived it begs the question, who is this film for? I expect (hope) the young adults targeted by this film will see through this charade and give it a pass. If anything the intermittent narration should do the trick, which serves like exposition where none is needed. The last words in the film, spoken by Cassie, are so overblown, cliche, and diffident in the audience’s ability to make the most basic assumption, it’s nothing short of infuriating.



J Blakeson


Susannah Grant (screenplay), Akiva Goldsman(screenplay


Chloë Grace Moretz, Matthew Zuk, Gabriela Lopez, Liev Schreiber

‘The 5th Wave’ (2016) Review: Another Dystopian Wasteland

Director(s): J Blakeson

Actor(s): Chloë Grace Moretz, Matthew Zuk, Gabriela Lopez, Liev Schreiber

Genre: Science Fiction

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