Welcome to the dumpster! The early months of the year consist of Hollywood dumping out hot, steamy piles of unmarketable garbage, in hopes of getting pennies back on the dollar. January is that wonderful juxtaposition between theaters crammed with award-caliber movies making their way to the Oscars and absolute garbage that should have gone right to Redbox. I’m not sure who to blame for a film like “The 5th Wave.” My first instinct is the “Harry Potter” series, which launched 15 years of studios acquiring successful young-adult book series in the hopes of creating a multi-film franchise and rake in cash.
This theory worked well for films like “Twilight” and “The Hunger Games,” and to a lesser degree franchises like “The Maze Runner” and the “Divergent” series. Those few successful franchises stand on the discarded corpses of movies like “The Golden Compass,” “A Series of Unfortunate Events,” “Seeker,” “Vampire Academy,” and “These Mortal Instruments,” walking up a pile of rotting flesh populated by garbage like “Ender’s Game,” “Beautiful Creatures,” “Eragon,” “The Spiderwick Chronicles,” “The Giver,” “The Host,” “City of Ember,” and
Go ahead and add “The 5th Wave” to the list.
It’s a low-rent alien invasion flick told from the perspective of a teenage girl named Cassie (Chloë Grace Moretz), who, when not pining over cute boys, is dealing with a global apocalypse. The lazily named “Others” begin wiping out humanity by stripping us of technology, unleashing earth-shattering environmental attacks and pandemic viruses that quickly bring us to our knees. Before we know it, the survivors are forced to exist in a world set back to the stone ages. Cassie and her family have managed to stay together in spite of these attacks—that is until the U.S. military shows up and begins to take children away to be trained as soldiers for the forthcoming “fifth wave.”
Things get all “Walking Dead” quickly as Cassie has to find her brother, who has been drafted into resistance effort. She crosses the remnants of our once-thriving society to get to the military base where he is being trained. Along the way she encounters a friendly soul named “Evan” (Alex Roe). Great news: He’s super dreamy. After helping her mend a wounded leg, they venture forth to find her brother. The action cuts back and forth between Cassie’s search for her brother and his military training with other kids.
The problem with “The 5th Wave” is every scene has a poor man’s feel. The opening disaster scenes feel like a poor man’s “Day After Tomorrow.” The premise feels like a poor man’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” The kids training to fight the enemy aliens feels like a poor man’s “Starship Troopers.” The story borrows so heavily from everything it never feels like it becomes its own movie. It’s a mash-up of many different stories, styles and stereotypes. It’s like the Frankenstein monster of young-adult sci-fi movies. And, in this day and age, there are so many similar types of movies, lacking an identity is a death-blow.
There are some decent actors doing decent work: Liev Schreiber and Maria Bello show up to bring a teaspoon of gravitas to the recipe. The younger members of the cast exert a lot of energy to make it watchable, but the movie never feels worth the effort. The fact the aliens look just like us isn’t as frightening as it is predictable for a movie of this caliber. We’re supposed to be frightened by learning who among the cast is secretly an alien, but it never comes across as anything other than a very budget-conscious choice for a low-rent sci-fi film.
If there’s anything good to say about “The 5th Wave,” it’s that I was never bored. The movie moved at a brisk-enough pace I never felt completely insulted by this heated plate of leftovers posing as a movie. But I can’t in good faith recommend a movie like “The 5th Wave” because it’s the product of an unfortunate formula trying to cash in on a trend that pinches out a half-dozen loafs of lazy each year. Hollywood and the ticket-buying public can do far better than this.