Mark Reviews Movies

The 5th Wave


1 Ĺ Stars (out of 4)

Director: J Blakeson

Cast: ChloŽ Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Alex Roe, Zackary Arthur, Liev Schreiber, Maika Monroe, Maria Bello, Ron Livingston, Tony Revolori

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence and destruction, some sci-fi thematic elements, language and brief teen partying)

Running Time: 1:52

Release Date: 1/22/16

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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 21, 2016

One day, the fad of book series about dystopian futures that are aimed at young adults will end, and along with it will come the end of cinematic adaptations of those series. Until then, we must endure movies like The 5th Wave, which seems to exist solely for the purpose of beginning a string of sequels. There's a lot of exposition here, and some of it holds promise. Some of the promising bits are rushed through to get to the basic plot of this first installment, and the rest of them, one supposes, are meant to maintain our curiosity for what will happen in the subsequent installments. The here and now of this movie seem to be of little concern to the filmmakers.

The gimmick in this future franchise (or at least the hope of that future is the obvious motive of everyone with a financial stake in this entry, hence the movie's final summation, which invokes "hope" multiple times) is that aliens have arrived on Earth. Their ship, a hulking flying object of metallic tiers and spires, flies around the globe until it reaches a stopping point above central Ohio. Down below, most people flee, but a few stay to try to live out life as normally as possible.

One who stays is Cassie Sullivan (ChloŽ Grace Moretz), an upstanding teenager who comes home by curfew, plays soccer, and has a crush on her high school's star football player. The footballer is Ben Parish (Nick Robinson). Cassie assumes Ben has died at some point during the attacks, and for all the function he serves in the plot, he might as well have died. As with mostóif not allóof these movies, though, there's the setup of a love triangle, and you can't have a love triangle without a third wheel.

The aliens do attack humanity in a series of "waves," a term upon which everyone on Earth agrees to use, apparently. In the first wave, the ship emits an electromagnetic pulse that renders every electrical device useless. Cassie looks out a classroom window to see cars crashing into each other and a plane falling from the sky.

In the second wave, bodies of water become tsunamis. Cassie says that she "can only imagine" what must have happened on the coastal cities, but director J Blakeson doesn't leave it to imagination. He cuts to scenes of destruction on coastal metropolises across the globe. This is a movie that doesn't leave anything to the imagination, which might explain why characters stop mid-action to explain the major plot twist three, four, and even five times.

Based on the title, though, we still have three waves to discuss. The third is a variation of the avian flu that wipes out a large percentage of humankind, and the fourth is the aliens' plan to infiltrate the population, disguised as humans, to wipe out the survivors. Cassie finds herself alone. Her parents (Ron Livingston and Maggie Siff) are killed by the flu and an Army squad led by Colonel Vosch (Liev Schreiber), who is taking children to a nearby military base to train them as soldiers. Cassie's little brother Sam (Zackary Arthur) is one of the drafted recruits, and so, too, is Ben. The eponymous fifth wave is pretty much the same as the fourth, although the identity of the party responsible for it is a question with a pretty obvious answer.

Cassie wants to save Sam. She's aided by Evan (Alex Roe), another lone survivor living on a farm. He has mixed sympathies for humans and the aliens (revealed during a scene so dark that one wonders if the projector bulb has failed), although Evan comes to his senses by the overpowering force of love.

In case the movie's blatant stating of its thematic concerns isn't enough (Screenwriters Susannah Grant, Akiva Goldsman, and Jeff Pinker provide the blunt screenplay, adapted from Rick Yancey's novel), Blakeson offers a teddy bear that Cassie lugs around with her firearms. She's constantly dropping it and retrieving it, as if the metaphor of lost innocence is as important to her survival as the weapons. For its part, the movie fetishizes both with little care for the meaning behind it. Kids and teenagers get to dress up as soldiers, play at warfare, and, as a result, feel really important, but the movie glosses over the consequences.

If one wants a bigger-picture analysis beyond the obvious fad of young-adult literature adaptations, The 5th Wave represents a trend of movies that care more about their follow-ups than their individual selves. That makes the sequels necessary from a narrative standpoint, but these movies rarely seem to consider if their standalone narratives would make anyone actually want the follow-throughs.

Copyright © 2016 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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