Cast: Chloe Grace Moretz, Ron Livingston, Nick Robinson, Maria Bello, and Liev Schreiber
Director: J. Blakeson
108 minutes (15) 2016
Widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Sony DVD Region 2
Review by Andrew Darlington
Rick Yancey’s novel The Fifth Wave was huge on the New York Times ‘young adult’ best-seller lists. So it’s inevitable, in the light of Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight saga franchises, that there’d be a movie. And in that hormonally-driven originality-light kidult sense, it’s a movie that works efficiently. A lone 16-year-old blonde girl with a high-velocity gun, a deserted truck-stop, it’s post-apocalypse-a-go-go… the story of how totally normal high-school girl Cassiopeia Sullivan from “just a happy-go-lucky family” becomes ‘Cassie who kills’. In ‘Anytown
she’s into hook-ups with boys with Spider-Man cell-phones, and cheer-leader pom-poms.
Until the galactic party-crashers arrive, the ‘mysterious object in orbit’
spotted over white picket-fences America ,
brings ‘The Others’ hovering overhead. Ohio
The First Wave attack is an EM-pulse – cars crash, planes fall out of the sky, product-placement Sony mobiles fail. The Second Wave is quakes and tsunamis that smash every coastal city, inundate islands, and devour
. Cassie and little brother Sam
(Zachary Arthur) get stranded in a tree. The Third Wave is a modified avian flu
that decimates global populations. Mommy (Maggie Siff) dies. “They’re careful
not to damage Earth too much,” observes Daddy (Ron Livingston), “they need
Earth.” “But not us,” adds Cassie perceptively. He gives her a handgun, because
“there’s nothing safe anymore.” There’s regulation devastation as they travel
towards the refugee camp, where the army arrives with news of ‘imminent
threat’. The Fourth Wave is happening. The ‘Others’ are tentacular green
nasties who’ve descended to inhabit human skulls. The children are to be
evacuated in a convoy of school coaches. Daddy is killed when a protest gets
out of hand and turns into a bloody riot, and Sam gets inadvertently separated
from Cassie, who is left alone in the forest. Walking all the usual highways of
endless desolation, stalled auto-wrecks and corpses. Tower Bridge
It’s been said the idea of green helmet visors enabling squaddies to see the aliens was lifted from John Carpenter’s They Live (1988). True, but equally, there’s not a single idea here that’s not recognisably recycled. Nasty envious aliens have been drawing their plans against us and perpetrating diabolical invasions at least since the 1930s pulp magazines, and sci-fi horror comics. That it’s astutely targeted at a youth demographic to whom it’s freshly-minted doesn’t entirely stack up. Yet there are some fine participants aboard the movie. The very lovely Chloe Grace Moretz, proved her action Hit-Girl credentials in Kick-Ass (2010), and her talent at portraying sensitivity in the remade Let The Right One In (2010). Both qualities employed to good effect here, as Cassie. Akiva Goldsman has writing credits clear across the genre, all the way from the family-in-crisis Lost In Space (1998), to Will Smith in both Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot (2004), and Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend (2007).
Liev Schreiber was also a strong presence in TheLast Days On Mars (2013), as well as his various X-Men contributions. Now he’s Colonel Vosch who delivers crock-patriotic spiel at the Wright-Patterson military base, intent on organising the global strike-back – or is he? When he’s shock-unmasked as an alien himself, training the kids to kill human stragglers, he gets the movie’s best lines, people simply “occupy a space we need.” And when Cassie’s high-school crush Ben ‘Zombie’ Parrish (Nick Robinson) argues that “our kind wouldn’t wipe out entire species,” he retorts “of course you would, you’ve been doing it for centuries.” Ask the dodo. And the white rhino. But putting their roles in context, Ben was named after Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream, while Cassie is named after a star-cluster. Needless to say little-brother Sam is processed at the same internment centre as Ben, in another of those tedious boot-camp things that movies seem to love so much, alongside token feisty street-wise punk ‘Ringer’ (Maika Munroe) who is already into the scam, “we didn’t get rescued,” she says, “we got drafted!”
Alien drones hunt survivors. “If you bug-bomb a house there’s always a few cockroaches left. Now we are like those cockroaches. And the Others are picking us off one by one,” Cassie’s voice-over journal explains. She gets major romantic complications when she’s rescued by darkly hunky Evan Walker (Alex Roe), and watches him skinny-dipping in the lake, to libidinous effect. But not everything is as it seems. The full-on end-of-the-world sex got deleted in favour of a chaste kiss, and in the movie’s second switch-around it turns out he’s a planted part-Other sleeper agent. “Our kind believe that love is just a trick. An instinct. A way to protect your genetic future,” he deadpans. “Do you really believe that?” queries Cassie. “I did. But then I saw you.” He can’t be both. He has to choose. He chooses her. He’s been redeemed by love. Which ticks another focus-group box.
In an efficiently undemanding film, there are shoot-outs and an exploding coach in a Middle American war-zone city. As a rite of passage, blowing up the yellow school bus is probably the most extreme form of putting aside childish things. But ultimately The 5th Wave is reassuringly about family values, as the various factions bond around a campfire. Yancey’s novel was a trilogy, so the fight-back goes on. “It’s our hope that makes us human,” Cassie’s final journal voice-over explains.