Film Review: The 5th Wave (★★)

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fiveth_wave_ver5Checking off just about every single one of the boxes needed for a run of the mill YA adaptation, The 5th Wave is about as standard as it gets, from the end of the world setting to the inevitable love triangle of sorts that develops. With only one exception (which you’ll hear about shortly), nothing here is really of any note, either of the positive or negative variety. It’s just thoroughly mediocre. There’s a ton of talent involved, but so little of it is put to use. Director J Blakeson and company really seem to have studied various YA franchises in preparation, but it’s not especially for the better. This wants to be a new series that can take over for The Hunger Games (obviously), but The 5th Wave just offers up no excitement, be it from its oddly subdued lead Chloë Grace Moretz or from the various underwhelming set pieces. In fact, the only time when things come alive is when Maika Monroe shows up in a spark plug supporting role. Had she been in this film more, things might have been different. Alas, that was not to be. I’ll address her again later, but she’s the only thing that stands out here. There’s no huge misfires here, but it’s just a number of small failures, leading to overt mediocrity. The 5th Wave isn’t terrible, but there’s a reason it hasn’t been given a summer blockbuster calendar spot and is instead opening in January…

Things actually start off with a bit of promise. We meet Cassie Sullivan (Sullivan) running through the woods, armed with an automatic weapon, then coming upon an abandoned gas station. We’re given no reasons yet, but as she grabs supplies (including tampons, which is a really strong detail that we never see in things like this), before being faced with a moral quandary. Then, we flash back to why she’s in this spot and things go downhill. Basically, Cassie was a normal teenager, with a brother named Sam (Zackary Arthur), mother named Lisa (Maggie Siff), and father named Oliver (Ron Livingston) she has a solid relationship with, up until aliens invaded the Earth. First, they hovered over our atmosphere, then began picking off humans. They started off with an EMP blast, then a flood, then disease, and finally an invasion, using our bodies as hosts. Her parents aren’t long for this world, leading to her being in charge of her brother, though they’re also separated eventually. We then follow Cassie as she attempts to reunited him at a military base, while Sam is thrown in with child soldiers including a former classmate of Cassie’s named Ben (Nick Robinson) and a hot tempered loner named Ringer (Monroe), under the command of Colonel Vosch (Liev Schreiber), in an effort to fight back. Plot twists follow, as is the case with any film of this ilk. I just wish more actually happened. It’s almost all set up for what presumably will follow in a sequel or two.

the-5th-wave-dom-df-15132-rgbThere’s a ton of talented actors and actresses in this movie, there’s no disputing that fact. It’s just also a fact that most of them are wasted in this flick. I always enjoy seeing Chloë Grace Moretz get leading roles, but she’s underwhelming here. To be fair, the material lets her down, but she also just underplays things way too much, leading to an odd feeling when she needs to periodically explode with emotion. Moretz does her job, but she’s been much better before. On the flip side though, Maika Monroe is the MVP here. I obviously loved her last year in It Follows, and she’s great here as well, adding a welcome confidence and intensity to the proceedings when she comes around. Her role is definitely a supporting one, but she really stands out. I really wish she’d have been given a bigger part, though if we have sequels, I suppose that might be the case (in fact, it seems that she’s the narrator in book two of this three book series). The rest of the cast fails to distinguish themselves, by and large. Nick Robinson seems half asleep, Ron Livingston is wasted, Liev Schreiber has almost nothing to do, and a respected veteran in Mario Bello has what more or less amounts to a cameo. There’s also Alex Roe, who comes on in the second half as a possible love interest and co-lead with Moretz, but he’s as bland as they come. The rest of the cast, including the aforementioned Zackary Arthur and Maggie Siff, as well as Cade Canon Ball, Talitha Bateman, Nadji Jeter, Alex MacNicoll, Flynn McHugh, and Tony Revolori, did nothing for me either. It’s really Monroe or bust here.

Director J Blakeson is a talented enough filmmaker to have brought more to this than he ultimately did. There are occasional moments where his attention to detail and visual style come through, but by and large this is an anonymous and workmanlike performance. To some degree, the writing team of Akiva Goldsman, Susannah Grant, and Jeff Pinkner definitely didn’t do him any favors. Their adaptation of potentially fruitful source material is so by the book, hitting on every YA cliche they can, that it really starts to bug you. It’s never a bad film, but it’s insanely uninspired. Again, they start off by giving you a nice bit of detail with what Cassie gets as supplies, but that’s about it. I suppose Blakeson gets some credit for Monroe’s performance as well, but I give the tip of the cap to her. She stands out from a very mediocre pack otherwise. The worst sin of Blakeson, Goldsman, Grant, and Pinkner? They just pad out the film to almost two hours without having that much of a plot. They get all of the fun stuff and interesting information out of the way early on and just spin their tires until the end. It’s a real shame.

Overall, The 5th Wave just doesn’t really do much for itself, if that makes sense? Aside from the performance of Monroe, it just sort of lays there and hopes to ride the backs of what has come before it. Essentially, it’s about as lazy as a would be blockbuster can get. That’s a shame too, as I would have been interested in something like this, having teens fight aliens. It’s all bungled though, so if there’s a sequel, I’m not sure I’d even bother. If you see this, see it for Monroe. Mostly though, don’t bother seeing it. The 5th Wave is just too run of the mill and mediocre to really be worth your time in any substantial way…

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