I don't know about you, but when I go to an alien-invasion movie I want to see some aliens invading. This is evidently not a priority for director J Blakeson, however. His new movie, The 5th Wave, is a dystopian young-adult adventure (think the Hunger Games and Divergent franchises—the filmmakers certainly are) that's heavy on the YA but very light on the off-world creatures the plucky youths we see are supposed to be battling. The youths themselves are an appealing bunch, and there's certainly no shortage of standard run-and-punch action; but the script is clearly saving the good space-monster stuff for projected sequels. (The Rick Yancy novel on which the movie is based is the first installment of a trilogy.)
The central character, unsurprisingly, is a stout-hearted teen named Cassie Sullivan (Chloë Grace Moretz). Cassie lives in suburban Ohio with her mom (Maggie Siff), dad (Ron Livingston), and regulation-cute little brother Sam (Zackary Arthur). As you might expect, she's also crushing on a sensitive-hot-guy classmate named Ben (Nick Robinson, of Jurassic World). All's well, very briefly, until a gynormous space ship appears in the sky and begins rocking the world with waves of calamity. The first wave features an electromagnetic pulse that destroys all power supplies. The second onslaught brings tidal waves that wipe out whole cities. Next comes a global epidemic of bird-borne disease, which dispatches Cassie's mom.
You'd think that all of this would compel people to stay indoors, sheltering in their homes. But no. Dad sets off on foot with Cassie and Sam to reach a refugee encampment he's somehow heard about. This turns out to be a tense place, and Cassie's father immediately gives her a Colt .45, saying, "Punkin, there's nothin' safe anymore."
An army detachment arrives at the camp, led by a Colonel Vosch (inscrutable Liev Schreiber), who announces to the refugees, "We're here to help"—always an ominous promise. Vosch packs all the kids on hand into buses to be taken to safety at an air force base not all that far away. (In a pure plot-furthering move, Cassie misses out on this trip after scampering off the bus to go find her brother's teddy bear and gets left behind.) The base turns out to be a boot camp where the kids are given battle training and fitted out with cool technology. Hunky Ben is here, and a goth-y butt-kicker called Ringer (Maika Monroe), who tells some ogling boys, ""Keep staring at my ass and I'll rip your throats out." Ringer clearly won't need much training.
Making her way to the base on her own in search of her brother, Cassie gets wounded in an impromptu firefight and is rescued by another sensitive hot guy named Evan (Alex Roe), who comes bearing a chaste kiss and—after gently bandaging a bullet hole in Cassie's thigh—the faintest suggestion of a sex scene. (The movie is rated PG-13.) Then Colonel Vosch announces that the fifth wave of the alien invasion has begun, with the still-unseen interstellar marauders descending to Earth to take up residence in human bodies. Paranoia predictably blossoms.
There's a lot of running around in this picture—through the woods, down boring airbase corridors—and lots of shooting, too (Cassie was apparently born to wield an AR-15). But the movie is short on real excitement—it never sweeps you up. Apart from some bogus fake-out sightings, the aliens, as I say, never put in an appearance; and just when you think they'd probably have to, the movie ends—with "to be continued" baldly promised. We'll see. The target audience, accustomed to more vivid entertainments, may already be making other plans.
Start your day with Reason. Get a daily brief of the most important stories and trends every weekday morning when you subscribe to Reason Roundup.