Synopsis: Four waves of increasingly deadly alien attacks have left most of Earth decimated. Cassie is on the run, desperately trying to save her younger brother.
Stars: Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Alex Roe, Maria Bello, Maika Monroe, Liev Schreiber, Ron Livingston, Maggie Siff
Director: J Blakeson
Running Length: 112 minutes
TMMM Score: (5/10)
Review: As is tradition, January is proving to be a rough month at the movies…which is largely why The 5th Wave is only the second movie I’ve seen in the theaters so far in this new year. While it’s not as pretentiously terrible as the other movie I saw earlier in the month (Anomalisa…oy), the latest big screen first installment of a Young Adult trilogy of novels struggles to set itself apart from the numerous other (and better) page to screen adaptations.
Coming off like a Muppet Babies retelling of Independence Day, The 5th Wave is the first novel in Rick Yancey’s trilogy following the after effects of an alien invasion that leaves the world in ruins. An electromagnetic pulse has destroyed anything with a current or engine, a super strain of the bird flu, and a series of catastrophic earthquakes that yield gigantic, yes, waves, has trimmed the population down by the millions. The screenplay by Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich), Akiva Goldsman (Winter’s Tale), and Jeff Pinkner (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) often feels more mature than the characters speaking the lines, but that winds up helping the film overall.
At the center of the mayhem is 16-year-old Cassie and her younger brother Sam (spoiler alert if you miss the first 15 minutes of the movie: the parents don’t make it…), left to fend for themselves against an alien race known as the Others who are taking steps to rid the planet of its inhabitants. When Cassie and Sam are separated by the kind of “just missed the bus” moments that can only exist in fantasy movies, the siblings find themselves split into two separate plot threads. One thread follows Cassie’s rocky journey to reunite with her brother and the other tracks Sam as he is recruited into an army of children trained to exterminate the alien species by a grumpy looking Liev Schrieber (Spotlight) and a heavily made up Maria Bello (Prisoners, who, it must be said, gets the biggest laugh of the movie thanks to a sight gag involving her red lipstick). There are a few twists that aren’t hard to predict, though to its credit the film doesn’t expressly telegraph each and every move.
It’s the end of the world as she knows and she feels…ok? Though the first 1/3 of the movie is decently paced and mildly involving, its biggest problem is its bored-looking star. Using flared nostrils and expressive lips as a substitute for deep emotion, Chloë Grace Moretz (Carrie, Dark Shadows) saunters through the majority of the movie killing time and collecting her paycheck. She gets a few good tough chick moments but they are weakened by the film feeling obligated to give her googly eyes for a hunky piece of could-be-alien man meat (Alex Roe, filling the man-meat qualifications nicely).
I actually found myself more interested in the parallel storyline of a squad of teens and pre-teens going through basic training, though overall it’s given unfortunately short shrift in favor of more Moretz moments. Led by Zombie (Nick Robinson, Jurassic World) alongside interesting but underdeveloped characters (like Tony Revolori, The Grand Budapest Hotel and especially Maika Monroe, Labor Day), had the film focused solely on the squad, it may have found its footing easier when it rounds the corner into its final act. A brief side note, I’m growing a bit weary seeing kids killing kids and being put into such deadly harm so parents, even though its based on a book your kids can pick up in their library, this easily earns it PG-13 thanks to several overly violent and disturbing passages.
As to the conclusion of the movie, it’s no secret that this is the first in a planned trilogy so there’s little resolution to offer by the end…making the previous two hours feel like a large set-up to sequels that may not happen should The 5th Wave get deep sixed at the box office. My advice would be to wait until the second (or third, or fourth if they dare to split it into two movies) is released and catch The 5th Wave from the comfort of your own home.