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The 5th Wave

January 22, 2016
The 5th Wave

Nobody goes into these young-adult dystopias expecting Shakespeare. The Hunger Games was by far the best of them, and even that was a far cry from the novels and wore pretty thin by the end of the series. So when I saw The 5th Wave, I was ready for it to be bad, but I wasn’t ready for just how bad it was.

You guys, it is so bad.

The 5th Wave is, unfortunately, not the long-awaited post-apocalyptic sequel to Phase IV. It is, rather, an unholy amalgam of Independence Day, Deep Impact, Contagion, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, They Live, Red Dawn, and Son of Saul. And yes, in part that last one may have as much to do with the brain damage inflicted by watching this drivel, but I’m pretty sure there are echoes in there.

So here’s what they’re trying to sell us: aliens have invaded in giant flying metal things. They’ve knocked out all forms of power, including both electricity and internal combustion engines — more on this later — and further cut down the human population with earthquakes, tidal waves, and disease. Now they’ve taken human form to hunt down the stragglers, and, as promised, there will be a fifth wave of attack to wipe out the last survivors.

We learn all of this in a very rushed first half-hour flashback as Cassie Sullivan (Chloë Grace Moretz) writes in her journal. Her mother and father (desperately underusing Maggie Siff and Ron Livingston) have both died, and the army has taken her brother Sammy (Zackary Arthur) and all the other kids to a nearby Air Force base, since they can detect the “Others” inside children. And since the kids are known to be clear, they can be trained as soldiers. I wish I were joking about this.

Cassie, on the other hand, was separated from the other kids when she went back to get Sammy’s teddy bear. She gets herself shot by one of the aliens, but wakes up in a farmhouse with her wound being tended by the obligatory Hot Guy, Evan Walker (Alex Roe). He wants her to stay, but agrees to accompany her to the base to find Sammy.

With both stories — the kids at the base and Cassie’s journey with Evan — there’s not enough time to deal with either one effectively. There is no character development to speak of. Cassie and Evan of course will fall for each other, but there’s no real reason given other than that they’re both young and hot and get chances to see each other PG-13-naked. For a story that tries playing to teenage romantic fantasies about love, the execution is pretty damn cynical about what teenagers’ love actually consists of.

The premise is every bit as half-baked as the characters are, so at least they fit in. Killing the power works by magic. Not only are lights and engines knocked out, they evidently can’t be repaired. Except then the army has managed to repair them. And internal-combustion engines won’t work, but guns evidently still do, which makes zero sense to anyone who knows how guns and engines work. I’m not trying to go all Neil deGrasse Tyson here; I’m down with speculative premises that violate actual physics, but I do demand some sort of self-consistency. What we have here is simply magic, conjured up for the convenience of whatever the story happens to want. It’s defiantly lazy.

More than once, someone in the critics’ row would wonder aloud, “who wrote this?” It’s a natural question, faced with a travesty, to demand some sort of accountability. Imagine my surprise as the credits rolled to see Fringe co-creator Jeff Pinkner. Right next to that was Akiva Goldsman, who wrote and directed many episodes of the show, and has a screenwriting Oscar to boot. And then there’s Susannah Grant, who has written some seriously good movies herself. I’m tempted to fall back on the writer of the original novel, Rick Yancey, for coming up with a story so bad that these three couldn’t save it.

But as bad as the writing is, the bad doesn’t stop there. The makeup, particularly Evan’s “beard”, is ridiculous. The action is completely ineffectual. Even Moretz was — and I really hate to say this — terrible, and that comes with full consideration of the lessons of her role in Clouds of Sils Maria. Maybe it was the director? it’s only J Blakeson’s second movie, but his breakout feature was extremely well-received. I’m at a loss.

Whatever the reason, The 5th Wave joins a swiftly-growing roster of truly abysmal movies starting out 2016. Worst of all: it’s threatening a sequel.

Worth It: no.
Bechdel-Wallace Test: fail.

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