“The 5th Wave” is the next film in the “teenagers save the world” films based on young adult books. Since the Rick Yancey book the film is based on is part of a series, the film is almost certain to be the first installment of a series, most likely a trilogy, because that’s how things are done nowadays unless you want to turn the final installment into a two-part finish.
Some of these stories are done well, with the “Hunger Games” films being the best of the bunch. Others (“Divergent”) are just varying shades of bad. Unfortunately, “The 5th Wave” is closer to the bad end of the spectrum.
The story centers on Cassie Sullivan (Chloe Grace Moretz), an Ohio high school student. Cassie is a prototypical high school girl, going to parties and crushing on boys until aliens decide to invade the planet, which is admittedly enough to throw everyone off his or her game. Preferring to stay aboard their giant, low-orbiting spaceship, the aliens soften up Earth’s inhabitants with a series of oblique attacks — the titular “waves” — first knocking out the planet’s power (including combustion engines), then hitting Earth with a planet-spanning earthquake and resulting floods, followed by a deadly virus. The aliens finally come to earth in the fourth wave, invading human hosts and controlling them from the inside, hiding in plain sight.
From there — and all of the above is rushed through, leaving plenty of time for what follows — the film becomes a predictable, unexciting slog with one vaguely likable character and no sense of drama. There is an “Enders Game” -style twist concerning who the bad guys are and how they choose to attack the humans, but it is revealed so early on in the film that you are left with nothing to wonder about.
Add to that the fact that “The 5th Wave” tackles the “teens saving the world” trope in just about the most ridiculous way possible, stretching even the most ardent fool’s willingness to suspend disbelief. The aliens kidnap a bunch of children and plan to turn them into a fighting force and let them loose on the human survivors. It should not have to be explained to anyone that the idea of turning a bunch of American 5- to 17-year-olds into a cohesive fighting force would be an act comparable to driving a heard of cats across the great plains. Yet the aliens accomplish this task in mere weeks, because in these kinds of novels, everyone under the age of 20 is also some kind of athletic savant.
There is no real story to “The 5th Wave.” Sure, Cassie is trying to rescue her kid brother from the alien base, but that is hardly enough to rest an entire film on. What should be a story about global conflict and defending the planet from invaders is boiled down to a girl’s journey to find an 8-year-old while stopping along the way to have awkward teen sex in a broken down Jeep Wagoneer.
It would be one thing if “The 5th Wave” simply chose to pander to its audience and pitch them a lazy, rehashed story about kids being more powerful than the adults give them credit for. But the film doesn’t even try that hard. Instead, it just puts a bunch of attractive young people on the screen, gives them the bare minimum of action to run around in and is happy to collect the money as it comes in. CV