The 5th Wave
So, if you’ve ever had a burning desire to know what would happen if you took Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Ender’s Game, and Twilight, locked them in a room, and waited to see what sort of uninspiring offspring ventured forth, you now have your answer, J Blakeson’s The 5th Wave.
The film starts with our hero, Cassie, played by Chloë Grace Moretz, as she forages for supplies in a deserted truck-stop, but not as deserted as we first thought, and the ensuing confrontation is all that we need for her voice-over to kick in, and take us back to when she was a “normal High-School girl”, before the “Others” came. We see her at a typical American High-School party. There’s a boy she likes, he kind of flirts with her, she goes home. Her family are the usual disposable parents, and a young brother that from the outset you can see is going to be her motivation for the course of the movie.
Back at school, there is some stolen glances with her crush, and then the Others turn up in the shape of an Independence Day giant ship hovering in the sky, and they didn’t just come with an unimaginative name, they also came with a pointlessly convoluted Five Step plan for wiping out humanity and taking over the Earth.
I’m not giving anything away here that isn’t in the trailer, so let’s deconstruct this Wave by Wave. First up they try and reduce humanity to the stone-age by firing off an EMP, which leads us to our first discounting of how physics works. Planes lose all aerodynamic properties and drop like stones, cars stop steering, and brakes stop working completely. Every piece of technology, switched on or off dies.
Next up Wave two makes water rise up into huge tsunamis, simultaneously around the world, and wipes out the coastal cities. In an effort to make us feel our protagonist is involved, there happens to be a lake near her, so that attacks too. So far, so silly, and this does give the film a chance to flirt with classic disaster movie archetypes.
Wave three is infection, and we find out that bird flu has been mutated and 90% of folks are goners. Never mind that the Others could have lead with this far more effective step, and re-titled the film the Third wave, but then we would have missed out on the much more visually impressive, if somewhat pointless Waves one and two.
Now we come to the first appearance of The Invasion of the Body Snatchers DNA in this film with the Fourth wave. Turns out they can take people over, so they look like us, and are already amongst us. By this point in the movie, Cassie has reached a refugee camp in the woods. After some fluffy feel-good family time, the military show up and the kids are being separated from the adults. What happens next is telegraphed to a ridiculous degree, and as her brother is taken off, Cassie has to go on foot to find him.
Now Ender’s Game kicks in, and the kids are being trained to fight the Others, and in a surprisingly short space of time, roughly 3-4 weeks, they are playing cards, talking trash and shooting like pros. We are talking some really young kids here, so your ability to suspend your disbelief is really starting to show the strain. Whilst all this is going on, Cassie is still trying to get to the military base to rescue her brother. In the process she meets a buff stranger, and now the love triangle from Twilight comes riding in over the horizon.
From here there are a few twist and turns, and all the things you guessed where going to happen, happen in a fairly pedestrian way. There’s a little action, a kick-ass female soldier with a troubled past is introduced, there’s a shocking twist that you saw coming from about half way through the movie, and our heroes more or less all end up reunited with the folks they want to be reunited with, and the credits roll with a whiff of desperation for a sequel.
The worst thing about this movie is that you can’t really hate it. It’s got most the necessary components for an adequate popcorn flick, and it hits its beats fairly well. None of the actors are terrible, and the special effects are perfectly fine, but for all that it manages to be less than the sum of its parts. None of the actors takes the chance to have you take notice by chewing the scenery, none of the plot-twists are not visible from a mile off, and none of the action is anything but pedestrian. You are left with a feeling of…… well nothing really. If you have nothing at all to do, find yourself next to a cinema, and want to get in out of the rain, at least this will keep you awake until the rain stops.
This film really does seem to be storyboarding by committee. Take a little bit of a high-school movie, mix in some disaster movie, add a soupcon of sci-fi, and a hint of body possession. Now shake vigorously with a slightly otherworldly tween love triangle, and voila! The 5th Wave.
Chloë Grace Moretz is perfectly serviceable as our lead, Cassie, but she is given little to do, and we know she is capable of much more. The Alien invasion portion of this is actually kept to a minimum, with nothing more than a spaceship in the sky, and a few drones to indicate this is meant to be classed in this genre. The set-pieces are leaden, and uninspired, and don’t even do much to drive the plot forward.
Finally, there really is a sense of a thin story that they really wanted to drag out into a series. To put it in context, if you’ve seen Star Wars Episode VII – The Force Awakens, you want to watch the next film as you are enjoying the Universe, and feel the story is going to pull you into that movie as you are excited to know what is going to happen next. With this you feel short-changed as nothing much is resolved, the characters haven’t progressed that much, and there isn’t really a proper ending. Would you watch the next movie in the series? Probably, but it would be a stubborn watch, just to see if you could get some return on the time you’ve spent watching the first one.