Stars: Chloe Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Maika Monroe, Zackary Arthur, Maria Bello and Liev Schreiber.
Writers: Akiva Goldsman, Susannah Grant and Jeff Pinkner.
Director: J Blakeson
A trope-y mash-up of The Hunger Games and Red Dawn overlaid with some ID4/Body Snatchers beats is the best that Columbia Pictures and hired-gun director J Blakeson can make of author Rick Yancey’s YA publishing hit.
With Katniss Everdeen now out to pasture, Divergent heroine Tris showing some fatigue and male-centric actioners like The Maze Runner and The Giver losing traction (not too mention the DOA 2013 mess, Mortal Instruments: City of Bones), Hollywood must have high hopes that 2014 ‘it-girl’ Chloe Grace Moretz can launch a fresh franchise to bolster the ‘young adult’ (ie, teen girl) movie-going demo. But the leaden scripting from heavyweight scribes Akiva Goldsman (A Beautiful Mind) and Susannah Grant (Erin Brockovich) refuses to spark into sequel-sustaining life, instead offering formless melodrama and breathy romance juxtaposed with kids-in-combat action sequences.
Moretz is Cassie Sullivan, a spunky every-girl whose middle-class happiness is torn asunder with the arrival of interplanetary invaders known as The Others. The attacks come in ‘waves’; literally, at one point, when a massive ocean surge lays waste the coastal cities of the planet and sends Cassie and kid-bro Sam (Zackary Arthur) up a tree for safety 100s of miles inland.
The first act, in which planes fall from the sky, a pestilence wreaks havoc and bands of survivors are corralled into army ghettos overseen by a grizzled Liev Schreiber’s Colonel Vosch, reps solid storytelling and convincing ‘survival mode’ tension. The plot contrivances that separate Cassie from dad Oliver (Ron Livingston) ring true enough for this type of genre pic; the early stages of her cross-state odyssey to save Sam while avoiding alien scouts is eminently watchable.
But Cassie’s mission and the narrative’s impetus unravel when our heroine is taken in by solitary farmboy Evan (sensitive beau-hunk Alex Roe). Some rank improbabilities and overripe dialogue, the likes of which may have worked on the page but land with a thud on the big screen, dull the excitement; one cracking bit of woodlands fisticuffs aside, the middle of the film feels dramatically inconsequential when it should be compelling and rich in character development.
Moretz is a solid lead, convincing as both an innocent finding her inner warrior and a modern teen tackling adulthood duties with untapped gusto. Cast with a clear eye as heart throb replacements for Liam Hemsworth and Josh Hutcherson are, respectively, Roe and Jurassic World’s Nick Robinson as all-American Ben Parish. Maika Monroe is the only other standout performer, nailing the tough girl/warrior part played so well by Jena Malone in The Hunger Games instalments.
The central device that posits the army as insidious tools of a faceless ruling force bent on dismantling the traditional American family structure might inspire analyse in some commentators (not to mention the ‘carry this gun for your own protection’ line in armed civil defiance). But those themes remain so resolutely unexplored by the filmmakers that any debate hardly seems justified. The 5th Wave (its title already sounding like a franchise that has overstayed its welcome) may play well to the younger sisters of the aging District 12 fanatics, but it is a minor YA entrant and middling action-adventure pic by most audience measures.