The 5th Wave (2016)

Feeling like the end of days is coming? Or perhaps you’re just hoping they are? If so, you might enjoy The 5th Wave, which takes viewers on a post-apocalyptic trip involving aliens, child soldiers, and teenage love triangles. If this all sounds familiar, then you’ve guessed it: we’re about to check out yet another film based on a Young Adult trilogy, this time from the novels by Rick Yancey.

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High schooler Cassie (Chloe Grace Moretz) leads a normal teenage life of soccer practice, parties, and crushing on boys. However, her life is quickly turned upside down when an alien invasion begins. It starts with a large mothership floating over her Ohio town, and widespread confusion across the planet. As people begin to trickle out of the cities due to fear, Cassie finds her classes getting smaller and smaller. Her family decides to stay put in hopes it will all blow over.

Then the first wave hits. The aliens send out an electromagnetic pulse that prevents human technology from working. Airplanes fall from the sky, cars crawl to a stop, and the power never comes back on. But the survivors of the first wave adjust, until the second wave comes along. A massive earthquake hits, which causes tsunamis and flooding which kills many. Then comes the third wave, an avian flu that kills many more, including Cassie’s mother. Cassie, her brother Sam (Zachary Arthur), and her father (Ron Livingston) finally choose to leave their home after burying their wife and mother. They find a small camp of people who seem to be thriving despite the presence of the aliens that everyone dubs “the Others”. Before settling into the camp, Cassie’s father forces her to take a gun and makes her promise to look after her younger brother no matter what.

His timing is impeccable, as that same day, a group of soldiers led by Col. Vosch (Liev Schrieber) rides into the makeshift camp and promises to take the people to safety at a military base. They load the children onto buses right away and assure their parents that they’ll send the buses back to retrieve them as soon as possible. Cassie and Sam board the bus, but Sam remembers he left his teddy bear behind. Knowing he can’t live without the bear, Cassie runs off the bus to retrieve it, but doesn’t make it back in time.

Meanwhile, the adults left in the camp are herded into a tent and told lies about the Others’ plan for the next wave. Cassie listens outside, but is shocked to see the meeting is actually the beginning of the fourth wave, in which the Others take human form in order to kill the survivors of the previous waves. Gunfire erupts in the tent and Cassie manages to flee to the forest before being seen.

After losing her father at the camp, Cassie sets out to find her brother and get him away from the alien threat. However, she doesn’t get very far before she’s shot in the leg and blacks out. When she wakes up, she finds herself in the home of Evan Walker (Alex Roe) who, after some debate, promises to help her get Sam back. The two of them set off, but other humans lurk around every corner willing to take out anyone for fear that they may be one of the Others.

Meanwhile, all the children have been taken to a special training camp by the Others, where they’re shown an alien taking over a human brain, and each one is forced to kill the human hosting it. This is only the beginning of their training, as they’re taught to become killing machines, with alien technology that tells them every human that isn’t in uniform or following orders is infected. The children are trained to become the fifth wave of the invasion without even realizing it.

Ben Parish (Nick Robinson), Cassie’s crush from high school, ends up leading the squad her brother Sam has been placed in. On their first mission out, he ties up Sam and tells everyone he has food poisoning. The rest of the squad battles it out until Ben’s partner, Ringer (Maika Monroe), realizes something isn’t quite right. The group decide to take out their trackers and play dead while Ben returns to the camp to make sure Sam is brought to safety. However, this doesn’t go over well with their Col. Vosch, and Ben is thought to be a traitor.

Around the same time, Cassie finds out Evan is hiding a secret from her: apparently, he’s an Other, and a sleeper agent sent to Earth years ago. She tells him he can’t travel with her anymore as she carries out her plan to infiltrate the base. This oddly doesn’t take a lot of effort on her part, and she quickly finds herself running around the base looking for her brother. While looking, she finds Ben, who promises to help her get Sam. Evan also finds them, and says they need to hurry up, as he’s planted bombs throughout the base. The Others quickly begin loading the children up to take them to another base while Cassie, Ben, and Sam escape to the outside world and try to figure out what the future holds.

The 5th Wave is based on a set of YA novels by Rick Yancey, which should give you some indication as to what you’re getting into with this film. Rather than a well thought-out post-apocalyptic story about alien invasions and the end of the world as we know it, you get a love triangle and a teenage girl narrating her experiences during the invasion as if she were writing about it in her diary.

The story primarily focuses on a series of attacks by aliens that you never actually see. Instead, they take human form and brainwash children and teenagers into wiping out the rest of the human race. Why? We really aren’t told. The only thing we’re told is that they’ve done this before. When? Who knows. There’s a hint that the aliens want our resources, but there’s also the suggestion that they might just be having fun with us. Your guess is as good as mine.

Another problem with the film is that is shows very little resistance from the human race. Sure, there’s not a whole lot humanity could do about our power being cut off, the earthquakes, the flooding, or even the avian flu. However, it makes no sense that so many parents are willing to put their children on a bus with people who proclaim to be the military, even though they have no credentials and no other vehicles in the world are working.

They also pull in teenagers to take in leading roles in their military program. However, at some point, some of the teenagers should have questioned the motives of the military personnel. We only see the kids who are willing to kill other kids who have supposedly been taken over by Others. So what happened to the kids who refused to kill? Were they killed as well? And if so, why are there still so many children available to serve in the military? What do they plan to do with the child soldiers after they do wipe out the rest of civilization? The questions just add up, with very little in the way of answers, which makes watching the film feel pointless.

Worse yet, the film ends on a cliffhanger. We don’t know what happens to the rogue alien, Evan Walker, nor do we know what the future will hold for the squad who escaped from the Others. There seems to be a hint that Ringer may actually be an alien too, but that might be something I was just personally hoping for to spice things up. I’m sure if they carry on with another film, this character will only be used as another romantic interest thrown into the mix. It’s disappointing that authors now can’t seem to portray a dystopian/apocalyptic storyline without throwing in some form of romance to draw in teenagers. It wrecks storylines and just seems unrealistic, especially when we’re also seeing people dying en masse and everyone’s main goal is to stay alive and find food and water.

It’s a shame that Chloe Grace Moretz, who’s shown great promise since she was quite young, is now jumping into movies like this. Perhaps it’s her agent’s bad call, but I hope films like this won’t send her career down the tubes. Although her acting skills are normally excellent, I didn’t think this role suited her in the slightest, as she felt out of place throughout the entire film. Although her character was meant to be portrayed as strong, compared to her other performances she came off as weak, and at times, incredibly frustrating to watch. Not to mention, she apparently had some sort of great hygiene and makeup kit during the invasion, because she never looks disheveled, nor do any of the other main characters. I guess that would be a turn off for the adolescent audience the film is aimed at.

So, if you’re sick of YA films that portray themselves as sci-fi or dystopian, then skip this one. You can easily replace it with one of the numerous other films in the genre that have been released in the past couple of years. The film is clearly directed at teens who want eye candy rather than a plot that will leave them thinking. It’s concerning that this has become such a major trend.

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  • JustMe

    I will admit it – I liked the book that this was based on. I could have done with a bit (Well, “A lot” actually) less stuff about Cassie falling in love with what’s his name alien but I thought that the progression of the aliens plan was well considered. It makes sense actually.

    I do agree that at first glance, the idea of parents just loading their kids on a bus to be taken away by strangers is odd. And that if you think about it then the kids being trained might have noticed that they weren’t seeing any other kids who weren’t killers. But then again – most of humanity would probably have been in some form of shock at that point and willing to submit to authority when it presented itself, so those things are not so much plot holes and considered steps that I am not sure anyone else thought of before this book.

    All of that said, the movie was… Sigh. Just “sigh”. Not great enough to warrant a sequel and not bad enough to laugh at – it was just sort of there. But at least watching the movie meant you didn’t have to read the interminably long passages of Cassie admiring the body of her new friend… Those were painful to get through. It’s worth watching if you stumble upon it for free but certainly not something to spend money to see. The book… Maybe spend money on it if it isn’t that expensive.