Disastrous The 5th Wave is a curious footnote in an otherwise impressive young career
The 5th Wave Columbia Pictures
Director: J Blakeson
Screenplay: Susannah Grant, Akiva Goldsman and Jeff Pinkner, based on the novel by Rick Yancey
Starring: Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Alex Roe, Maika Monroe, Zackary Arthur, Tony Revolori, Ron Livingston, Maria Bello and Liev Schreiber
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 52 minutes
January 22, 2016
(out of four)
Chloë Grace Moretz has been around for so long already that her appearance in The 5th Wave is strangely anachronistic. This seems like the type of low-rent movie an actress of her stature would have starred in earlier in her career, when she was less established - the kind of movie that lives on as a footnote, periodically rediscovered at a Redbox kiosk.
The film arrives in theatres seven years after Moretz first caught our attention with her small role in (500) Days of Summer, six years after she stole all of her scenes in Kick-Ass, five years after she was the female lead in a Best Picture-nominated Martin Scorsese movie, and two years after one of her first grown-up dramas, Clouds of Sils Maria, premiered to acclaim at the Cannes Film Festival.
From a career standpoint, no doubt there's sound logic to the idea of toplining a YA sci-fi franchise, even if it is in a high-school role she seems to have just outgrown. (For years she's been playing "more mature than her age" roles, in everything from her guest-starring part as a ruthless corporate climber in 30 Rock to the Carrie remake, when she was a rare example of a teen actor playing a role older than her actual age, sharing screen time with twentysomethings playing characters five or ten years younger.) On paper, it seems viable enough. A few respected character actors like Maria Bello, Liev Schreiber and Ron Livingston. A couple of up-and-coming young actors like Maika Monroe (It Follows), Nick Robinson (Jurassic World) and Tony Revolori (The Grand Budapest Hotel).
But in execution, The 5th Wave is perhaps the worst and laziest of the most recent wave (yeah I went there) of apocalyptic teen movies, which is what makes Moretz seem so out of place. It's not so surprising that she has her own potential franchise vehicle; nor would it be surprising if the movie were simply not very good, because every actor stars in their share of not-very-good movies. What's surprising is that the would-be franchise she landed in is so exceptionally bad. This thing makes the the Divergent movies look like visionary masterpieces by comparison.
The film shares characteristics with countless YA genre films that have come before it - an apocalyptic event, an alien invasion, young romance (and the hint of a burgeoning love triangle), teen soldiers being trained for the ultimate battle - but is embarrassingly ill-equipped to handle any of them, if not downright disinterested. What struck me when the film ended was the fact that it had lasted nearly two full hours, when almost every segment of the story - and there are only a few of them - seems like it never got a chance to build.
We see alien aircrafts hovering over cities across the globe, but there's neither dread nor time for any real reaction before the aliens start the first wave of their invasion process (wiping out all sources of power). OK, fine - so the filmmakers want to dive right into the post-invasion elements of the story. Fair enough. But when every narrative stop along the way is given the same terse treatment, we realize it's not just economical filmmaking choices but bad storytelling.
Cassie (Moretz) is shuffled off with her father (Livingston) and younger brother Sam (Zackary Arthur) to a military base. She soon gets separated from both, leaving her to fend for herself in a postapocalyptic Ohio in which the alien invaders (given the highly original moniker of The Others) can take human form. Eventually she's injured and gets rescued by the resourceful loner Evan Walker (Alex Roe), who luckily for Cassie has the following face:
Meanwhile, Sam has been forced into the kid soldier program, joining up with the likes of Ben Parish (Robinson), his sister's former high-school crush, and "Ringer" (Maika Monroe), a sullen badass in a goth ensemble who teaches everyone else in her ragtag crew how to handle a gun. The better to kill the Others with, of course. And naturally the kids' military commanders (i.e. Schreiber and Bello, among others) aren't suspicious at all and we definitely do not suspect that things are not as they seem. Nope, no sir.
But whatever the case, the film, based on Rick Yancey's novel of the same name, never takes the time to probe any of the familiar story elements with any degree of depth. We get cheap shortcuts and muddled ideas in place of plotting and tension. This is a movie with not one but two key plot scenes that hinge on a character accidentally forgetting something and having to run back and retrieve it.
And everything else - What It All Means, What the World is Like Now - is handled by Moretz via voiceover narration. If you listen closely, you can hear the regret.