Kurt Loder Movie Reviews

Movie Review: The 5th Wave

Chloë Grace Moretz gets feisty in an attempted sci-fi franchise.


The 5th Wave

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.

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  1. “(Cassie was apparently born to wield an AK-47).”

    Am I being excessively pedantic in pointing out that in the still provided, she is wielding an AR-15?

    1. No, you’re correct. Gonna change that. Thanks…

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  3. If you’ve read the book, you’d know a lot more about the aliens and why they are evident (or rather not exactly there as you’d usually see) in this installment. I’ve only seen the trailer but from your description, a lot is missing from the movie. There was a lot more to the book, such as what happens to the camp the children leave when ‘transferred’ by the ‘soldiers’. Not surprising, though.

    But just to concentrate on the aliens. SPOILER ALERT if you don’t want to know in advance. I’ve left a few lines of spacing for those who don’t want to know.

    The aliens don’t have bodies. They did about 10’000 or more years earlier but the only way they could travel such long distances was to transfer their consciouses to the ‘mother ship’ which is only a machine. They’ve been supposedly observing us for 6000 years. But they also have the ability to transfer themselves into humans, which some of the characters in the book/movie are.

    Think of it. If you were an alien race where the difference between your evolution/technology with humans is as great as us with rats, how would you go about things? Plus the fact that not all the aliens agree with each other as to how to deal with the humans (more opposing views than you’d see in a Star Trek/United Federation of Planets debate)….

    1. Interesting. But if you have to read a book to understand a movie, the movie has failed in some way…

      1. Maybe, but Dune keeps being re-made.

      2. Agreed.

      3. Either that or the book just wasn’t cinematic — at least when it came to a major element of the story.

    2. If they could do all that, couldn’t they just grow new bodies?

      And that differences among aliens thing was done in V.

    3. SPOILER:

      The movie is also another case of “how stupid do the heroes have to be to believe the plot they’re in?” Really, alien snipers in the woods to shoot stragglers, but the invaders haven’t done anything about an active military base? And a military with all kinds of new tech developed and mass-produced after the aliens EMT and plague attacks?

      OTOH, the kids are from public schools.

      1. I saw the movie yesterday and LarryA is exactly right. I had a hard time suspending disbelief to get into the movie at all because the plot holes were big enough to drive an oil tanker through. I loved the concept, how do you completely eradicate an intelligent species without damaging the biosphere beyond the use of a similar specie?

        I haven’t read the book so I can’t determine if the movie script seriously diverged from the author’s original work. If that is not the case, then I probably wouldn’t care for the book either.

        The setup for future installments was obvious and clumsy. I won’t be bothering with them.

    4. Wasn’t this the plot of an Ayreon album about eight years back?

    5. So… Thetans? A sci Fi made for tom cruise.

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  5. Is stout-hearted the new plucky? just asking. and really throat ripping just for ass staring? seems kind of excessive, how about they stare until she bitch-slaps them?

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  7. (The movie is rated PG-13.)


    Seriously, when SyFy and USA are showing edgier stuff than any American cinema, why bother any more.

    1. Rhy,

      The point is the ready made audience of the best seller’s built in fans, and the hope noted by the article author to cash in on the teen / young adult target audience of the book that has been mined by Divergence, Hunger Games, and the Maze. Although I know of one fellow sci fan adult who praised the book to me a few weeks ago, by coincidence.

      His praise of it was what made me read the article here, just out of curiosity. I have enough young adult sci fi trilogies under my belt, that given the basic ideas presented, there’s little here for me. One thing it might have, of course, is the talent fo the author. I may check out the book to see if that element is worth it, but this movie will wait until it’s on FX, or HBO.

    2. It’s interesting that the young adult science fiction of the sixties is now adult science fiction. There’s scenes in a lot of Norton and del Rey books that would probably have a tough time if they were marketted as young adult fiction today. And Norton’s young adult novels use more sophisticated language than most adult novels of today.

  8. As long as it promotes the usefulness of firearms to today’s youth, I’m all for it, schlock or not.

    1. Good point, as long as the responsibility comes with it.

      1. Well, given that Hollywood has long portrayed the use of firearms in extremely irresponsible ways (and powerfully enough to drive gun control policy, as Scarface (1983) helped push through the ban on machine guns in 1986), I’ll happily take ANY Hollywood portrayal of firearms as good (without any irony or hidden anti-gun message), with or without the accompanying gun safety lecture.

  9. Chlo? Grace Moretz gets a pass until she’s old enough for the good roles, or youth films get better writers.

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  11. I don’t get it. If the aliens’ end game is to invade our bodies then what is the point of announcing their arrival? Why the EMP blast? Just trickle in a few thousand at a time scattered around the globe. If they have been waiting 6,000 years I don’t see why a slow invasion over a 100 years or so wouldn’t be a smarter approach.

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