Once upon a time, teens had movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Breakfast Club and The Lost Boys. Today, they have only the doom and gloom of government oppression in the post-apocalypse. Like, what a drag, man.
At one point, about two-thirds of the way through The 5th Wave, one of our protagonists asks his tormentor in confused anguish, “What is the point of any of this?” “Nothing,” comes the reply. I had to wonder whether or not this was an intentionally meta moment inserted by the filmmakers, purely to kick a little extra sand in our eyes. This exchange could be seamlessly transposed between a disgruntled audience member and a smug Sony executive; the latter well aware their film is shamelessly nonsensical, derivative and apathetic, yet justifiable, simply by the need to follow other studio’s successes and turn a popular young adult novel series into a cash cow film franchise. So here we have it; yet another addition to the increasingly bloated and manipulative teen dystopia genre.
J Blakeson’s The 5th Wave, based on Rick Yancey’s book of the same name, follows ordinary teenage girl Cassie (Chloë Grace Moretz) whose world is turned upside down by the arrival of an ominous alien mothership above the Earth – which, without warning, wipes out most of humanity with four increasingly deadly “waves” of attacks. With her parents eliminated, and younger brother recruited by the military to join an army of child soldiers, Cassie must traverse the new world’s dangerous terrain – with the help of a mysterious young man named Evan (Alex Roe) – and rescue her sibling. Meanwhile, the human survivors learn that those among them may not be who they seem; but instead part of an impending fifth wave of attack…
Given its title, The 5th Wave is ironically (and quite surprisingly) only the fourth wave in the post-apocalyptic science fiction for teens fad excreted by Hollywood, following in the profitable wake of The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner. But while each series varies in quality, this latest incarnation may be the weakest entry yet. Worse, it threatens to derail the genre itself, making its formula and tropes more obvious than ever, and highlighting the many problems that seem to persist within this strain of blockbusters. It does show early signs of promise, but it’s not long until we’re going through the motions; the film gradually checking every cliché off its list of How to Set Up a YA Franchise 101.
A barrage of questions remains not only unanswered, but ignored entirely – why is it we learn absolutely zilch about these aliens and their reasons for attacking Earth? Why do they take the unnecessarily complicated approach of wiping out human survivors by posing as them when they have already shown they can kill by tsunami and plague? What sane military would recruit children to fight an alien invasion? The scattershot plot shambles from one disjointed scenario to the next whilst taking itself far too seriously; its wooden script and dialogue painfully lacking a single squirt of personality or awareness of its ridiculous situation. The premise itself is awfully similar to another sci-fi adaptation – 2013’s dreadful The Host (in turn a rip-off of Invasion of the Body Snatchers), and Cassie’s laughably forced romance with the potentially “dangerous” Evan (and set-up for a future love triangle) brings to mind a certain sparkly-vampire series we don’t speak of anymore.
As ever, some Hollywood heavyweights phone in the supporting roles – this time it’s Liev Schreiber, Maria Bello and Ron Livingston, but most disheartening is Miss Moretz. She does her best with the thin material, but cannot do much to elevate it – on the bright side, at least these hurried franchises give their actors guaranteed long-term work.
In the end, The 5th Wave divulges into a mess of predictable twists and the obligatory “This is just the beginning,” monologue, leaving us to sigh and accept that this, and many more like it will continue to generate a healthy box office for a while to come. Bring on the 6th wave, I suppose. And the 7th. And the 8th…
The 5th Wave is available in Australian cinemas from January 14th
Images courtesy of Sony Pictures