Now that the Hunger Games franchise has finally wrapped up, there's a seat available at the head of the Young Adult Dystopian Sci-Fi table. Battling as though in some sort of gladiatorial arena themselves are the main contenders, Divergent and The Maze Runner. At the end of the year we'll have a spinoff from the Granddaddy of YA - Harry Potter - in the form of Fantastic Beasts. Now, coming in from the rear is The 5th Wave, an adaptation that hits so many of the established notes of this genre it plays like a parody.
Every YA series worth its salt needs a plucky young heroine, and in this case it's Cassie (Chloe Grace Moretz), an average all-American 16-year-old who enjoys soccer and swooning over quarterback Ben (Nick Robinson, whom you might remember as the creepy kid from Jurassic World). Her comfortable life falls apart when Earth finds itself the target of generic alien race number 73, whose giant ships hover over key cities, a detail blatantly swiped from the '80s sci-fi mini-series V. You would assume the planet would descend into anarchy, but everyone seems to carry on as usual, with kids attending school and learning algebra while menacing giant spaceships look down on them.
The aliens' attacks come in waves, five of them no less. The first knocks out all of the earth's power, though as this is a Sony production, Cassie hangs onto her Sony tablet, making sure we get a look at its logo, lest we mistake it for a generic device (later, we get the ubiquitous Sony insert of a rubber Spiderman toy, which they probably regret now that they've sold the rights to Disney). The second wave causes earthquakes, which level the world's great coastal cities with the resulting tsunamis. The third wave wipes out a large chunk of the population with an extreme form of bird flu, while the fourth wave sees aliens pose as humans to infiltrate and wipe out the remaining survivors. Just what could the fifth wave be?
On the surface, The 5th Wave is as generic a YA movie you could imagine. We have our young heroine forced to become humanity's saviour. We have a younger sibling that needs rescuing in the form of Cassie's kid brother. We have an authoritarian fascistic system that needs toppling. And of course we have dual love interests - a hunky young high schooler and an even hunkier older guy (Alex Roe, whom you probably won't remember as the creepy kid in 2000's B-horror The Calling) for Cassie to engage in statutory rape with. But from the opening scene, in which Cassie guns down an innocent, unarmed and wounded man (a good Christian, no less), the movie plumbs depths of darkness never seen in this genre before. People actually die here, in mass numbers, some of them children, and they bleed.
This is the movie you imagine Paul Verhoeven's 14-year-old daughter might make with a blockbuster budget, and the costume and production design bears more than a passing similarity to Starship Troopers. It's at times hilarious, but without a hint of the irony someone like Verhoeven would have brought to this. The 5th Wave takes itself seriously, but it's so daft as a brush, it's impossible for the audience to feel the same way. Moretz plucks away, desperate to land herself a franchise that will advance her into the A-list, but some of the supporting players know the sort of movie this really is, and Maika Monroe and Maria Bello are having a great time with their over-the-top warrior women.
Technically, this is an awful movie, but damn if I didn't have a blast with it. Some of these movies get so bogged down in the pseudo-politics of their world they end up playing out like amateur Ken Loach knockoffs, with extended scenes of exposition in an attempt to 'matter'. The 5th Wave has no such pretensions and keeps the action zipping along at a nice pace. But of course, I'm the one person on earth who liked the Mortal Instruments movie. That franchise never made it past the first installment (though it's since been reinvented as a TV show); hopefully we get a '6th Wave', as we need a bonkers movie like this every now and then, especially in the midst of 'awards season'.
Review by Eric Hillis
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