Now that Twilight and the Hunger Games movies have depleted, it seems like Hollywood needed to start something new in the Young Adult space. Enter The Fifth Wave, a movie that mashes together the silly thrills of an alien invasion movie and the uber seriousness of a Young Adult dystopian sci fi film. The mashup is predictably not very good.
The film is based on Rick Yancey's 2013 YA book and doesn’t have any particular subtext or deeper meaning of great science fiction movies like Alien, nor does it have the popcorn thrills of a commercial entertainer like Independence Day. The only interesting aspect of the film is the explanation of the waves - in the first wave the power goes out and cars don’t work; floods and earthquakes arrive in the second wave; a plague occurs in the third; the aliens come to Earth in the fourth and take over human bodies in the fifth.
The problem is the concept of the fifth wave has already been done before in Invasion of the Body Snatchers and its numerous remakes. Also the body invasion was treated like a metaphor for class distinction in the 70’s America which made for deeper subtext than cheap thrills of gory special effects. In the case of The Fifth Wave the plot is only used as a vehicle to peddle teenagers yet again fighting a dystopian war to save humanity, while being caught in relationships.
The concept of aliens taking over human bodies isn’t the least bit scary – the only heft of the plot point is how distrustful one can be of another person. We also never get to know how the aliens take over the bodies – it just occurs in the film as a happenstance.
When none of the major ingredients are working, director J Blakeson relies on emotional heft – but even that is mostly surface level. The protagonist Cassie (Chloe Moretz) either looks sad when her parents die in the invasion or looks scared when being chased by the aliens. When neither of those things are happening she looks wide eyed at the hunky Evan (Alex Roe), as if a handsome man is the only thing needed to save humanity.
It certainly offsets any heroic aspect to Cassie’s character, and it only makes the central character bland. This is strange coming from the director of The Disappearance of Alice Creed where the female character holds her own despite being kidnapped by two men. The secondary characters in the film are equally uninteresting – Liev Schreiber plays a standard issue military leader given the task of rendering pep talks and Maria Bello plays a sergeant with seriousness that borders on unintentional hilarity.
The whole concept of the world training children in army camps to battle the aliens is reminiscent of Enders Game, albeit without the charm or sense of adventure of that book. Even the action sequences, which are few and far and between don’t really have the spectacle needed to portray the devastation of an alien invasion. The worrisome aspect is that The Fifth Wave is set up as the first of a franchise, and if the quality doesn’t improve in the next installment we’re in for a few more years of Young Adult mediocrity.