“Wave 1: Darkness. Wave 2: Destruction. Wave 3: Infection. Wave 4: Invasion.”
Directed by J Blakeson
Starring Chloe Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Alex Roe, Maika Monroe and Liev Schreiber
In the aftermath of a devastating, yet impersonal alien assault, a handful of survivors struggle to stay alive, while an army of children is gathered in an Airforce base by Colonel Vosch (Schreiber) and trained to strike back against the invaders. Among the former group is Cassie (Moretz), and among the latter her brother Sam (Zackary Arthur) and her old high school crush Ben (Robinson), now known as ‘Zombie’.
After seeing her father and dozens of fellow refugees massacred by the soldiers who took Sam away, Cassie escapes but is shot in a sniper ambush. She passes out and wakes in the house of Evan Walker (Roe), a ludicrously dreamy farm boy who offers to take her to find Sam. Meanwhile, Zombie and Sam train with a squad of other kids, including moody badass goth transfer Ringer (Monroe), to fight aliens who have taken humans as hosts.
As they travel, Cassie and Evan fall in love, only for Cassie to learn that he is one of the Others, just in human form. Zombie’s squad are sent into combat with prototype alien detectors, but come to realise that the detectors actually reveal humans not tagged by the soldiers, and that Vosch and his troops are the real alien infiltrators. Having left Sam behind, Zombie returns alone to extract him, even as Cassie brakes into the base to do the same.
What’s wrong with it?
Adapted from the novel of the same name, The 5th Wave suffers from almost exactly the opposite problem of many adaptations. Instead of paring the story down to nothing or penciling a radically altered narrative into the basic concept, it tries to faithfully include everything in the novel and ends up giving enough time to pretty much none of it.
It also crams in the primary beats by omitting sometimes vital details. In particular, Ben/Zombie’s survival story is never told, so he doesn’t come into camp emotionally shut-down, which coupled with the massively reduced time given to the squad’s training leaves his bond with Sam underestablished. Similarly, the relationship between the squad members and between Zombie and Vosch is underplayed.
It’s perhaps ironic that the squad members, being introduced so briefly and given only nicknames seem somewhat less than human to the viewer, given that part of the reason for the nicknames is to break down their sense of themselves as humans.
The dry humour of the novel is lost with the first person narrative. In fact, the film has almost no humour at all.
Cassie is on the run in the woods, with just the clothes on her back, a rifle and pistol, a teddy bear, and all the makeup and hair-care products left in the world.
Ringer is pretty clearly Asian in the books; in the film she is a white Goth, and seems to have snapped up all of the makeup and product not squirreled away by Cassie. Or Evan Walker.
Evan Fucking Walker. Even from the book I pretty much hated Evan Walker, with his perfect hair, chocolate eyes and gumdrop nose. It’s not a matter of jealousy, so much as disbelief that even a quisling could maintain his regime so well in the post-apocalyptic wasteland. From the first he seems so out of place. Yes, he’s actually an alien (or in the book, a human with an alien soul,) but even the other Silencers* look grubby next to him. At least in the book you could read it as Cassie’s skewed perspective.
Also, what the hell is up with Vosch’s troops? Even if they aren’t all genuine military types, the ease with which a hillbilly mechanical engineering student rips though their base is just… embarrassing. God only knows how bad it would have got for them if Walker was a Boy Scout.
In the fight between Evan and the other Silencers it is clear that the hybrids have superhuman strength and resilience, yet Cassie still takes one of them out with a USB cable.
What’s right with it?
Moretz and Robinson are decent leads, although Robinson in particular has very little left to work with after the edits. The rest of the cast aren’t bad, and Liev Schreiber being an evil dick is always value for money.
The basic concept remains good: The idea that an interstellar invader would basically not need to send out soldiers and fighters to overthrow humanity, but would work more like an exterminator than a conqueror.
How bad is it really?
I don’t rate the novel of The 5th Wave as highly as many, but the adaptation singularly fails to adjust the pacing for a movie, instead creating a sort of shallow and unengaging highlights reel of a 13-part mini-series adaptation that never was.
Best bit (if such there is)?
The opening scene, where Cassie kills a man after mistaking a crucifix for a gun, is easily the most powerful in the film.
What’s up with…?
- The refugee intelligence network? How does Cassie know what happened at the coasts if all communications are cut off? Are they just guessing? Is her narration at that point not her journal but something after action report for the entire trilogy?
Production values – It’s a decently made film, with sparing use of major digital effects for the alien mothership and the global tsunamis resulting from the 2nd Wave. 6
Dialogue and performances – One of the side effects of the degree to which the plot is cut down is that the dialogue is easily 85% functional exposition. It’s decently acted, but there’s not much to make the characters pop out as more than just cut outs. 12
Plot and execution – The basic plot is sound as a pound, but the whole thing is so rushed in order to fit everything in that it becomes more like a description of the plot than the plot itself. 11
Randomness – Evan’s superhuman strength and fighting skills (which are way above anything the other Silencers display) come out of left field a bit. 4
Waste of potential – This is almost a text book example of how not to adapt a book. I say almost because at least it isn’t Seventh Son. 16
- A term from the book not used in the film.