During the opening scenes of the new young adult sci-fi film The 5Th Wave, I was happy to discover that this was not simply another Hunger Games/Divergent Series/Maze Runner piece of production-line post-apocalyptica, but something at least a little different.
You see, instead of being set in a far-flung future, The 5th Wave takes place during the apocalypse as society is crumbling following the effects of an alien invasion. Call it something akin to The Walking Dead, with an alien threat replacing the zombies, and teens replacing the survivors.
After giant UFOs appeared in the sky a la Independence Day, the first wave was an electromagnetic pulse that rendered all electronic devices on Earth defunct. The second wave was a series of natural disasters that killed off most of the Earth’s population, the third wave introduced a virus to kill off more people, and the fourth wave brought in pod people to infiltrate the surviving remnants.
The fifth wave? Spoiler alert… it’s love.
Or something like that. You see, where The 5th Wave is initially a more grounded and interesting take on familiar young adult tropes, it gets sillier and sillier until we ultimately reject it. All that realism early on is thrown out the window when the climax of the movie involves one of the alien invaders falling in love with our teenage protagonist.
I was reminded of The Host, in which an alien parasite from a race that has conquered the world… falls in love with Saoirse Ronan. This one isn’t that bad, but it’s close. All these invasion movies that used firepower against the alien menace? No, no, no. It was love: love conquers all, including the alien apocalypse, in disarmingly literal fashion.
The object of alien affection here is Cassie Sullivan, played by Chloë Grace Moretz. Poor Cassie loses her mother (Maggie Siff) during the third wave, and then misses the bus (literally) when the army drives away with her younger brother (Zackary Arthur). When her father (Ron Livingston) is killed, Cassie is forced to roam the wasteland solo, knowing there’s pod people out there and that she can’t trust anyone.
Except mysterious hunk Evan Walker (Alex Roe), who saves her when she’s hit in a gunfight, carries her back to his place, and nurses her back to health.
Despite the success of The Hunger Games and Jennifer Lawrence’s strong action-movie heroine, movies like this one and the recent Allegiant give their female protagonists precious little fighting to do.
That’s all boy stuff, so in The 5th Wave, we get a whole ‘nother storyline involving Ben Parish (Nick Robinson), Cassie’s high school crush thought long dead, and his indoctrination into the pod people fighting youth army under a colonel played by Liev Schreiber.
Ben’s story is perplexingly obvious right from the get-go, but it’s the only thing in The 5th Wave that works, and includes a neat tough girl role for Maika Monroe, last seen in It Follows.
Had the movie surrounded the youth army and Monroe’s character, it might have been fun. As it is, this heady stew of silly post-apocalyptic young adult tropes can be safely avoided by all but the dedicated, despite a promising start.