Stop me if this sounds familiar: In a post-apocalyptic nation, one spunky hero sparks a trilogy-long revolution against a corrupt government, as the fate of the world rests upon their shoulders. The 5th Wave proves to be a lacklustre addition to the current trend of young-adult (YA), dystopian thrillers, which includes the likes of The Hunger Games and The Maze Runner. Directed by J Blakeson and based upon Rick Yancey’s bestselling 2013 novel, the film follows Cassie Sullivan (Chloë Grace Moretz), a 16-year-old survivor of an alien invasion. As one of Earth’s last remaining survivors, she must fend off wave after wave of deadly attacks, including power outages, plagues, earthquakes, and floods—with the eponymous fifth wave being the story’s main focus—in order to reunite with her younger brother, Sammy (Zackary Arthur). An intriguing premise perhaps, but the reality is a generic teenage angst-ridden romance, paired with an alien invasion thrown in as an afterthought.
Love triangles, paper-thin characters, and brooding bad boys galore, The 5th Wave can’t seem to pull itself out of its YA clichés. Too bad though, as the film boasts some genuinely surprising plot turns and impressive special effects. Its main achievement can be traced back to the dilemma many popular book series experience when they become global sensations and movie franchises; which parts to bring to life to satisfy the fans and which to eliminate so as to maintain a coherent narrative. Finding that right balance can be tricky, however, the film manages to successfully juggle its two coinciding storylines, Cassie’s search for Sammy, and Sammy’s training in a military boot camp.
But that’s where the good ends, sadly. Overlooking the story’s obvious similarity to other films of its ilk proves to be an impossible feat. It follows trope after trope of cliché young-adult franchises, like Twilight or Divergent. From hormone-addled teens to truly eye-roll inducing dialogue, The 5th Wave struggles under the weight of its simplistic plot line. A more accurate synopsis of the film should be: Socially awkward, beautiful, (yet unaware of her own beauty) nerdy girl meets aloof, yet sensitive, young man (Alex Roe) with a mysterious past. In the midst of an apocalypse, Cassie must decide which cute boy she likes best, as her hair and makeup remain picture perfect after living alone in the wilderness for a year.
Even less impressive than the plot itself is the film’s highly questionable acting. Moretz seems to make use of only two facial expressions: Gaping mouth and wide eyes (that’s fear) or pursed lips and wide eyes (that’s love). Though, to be fair, she’s not entirely to blame. One has to wonder how people can act convincingly when faced with the line, “My name is Ben because my dad likes Ben & Jerry’s,” to which she replies, “I’m sure your dad loves you more than ice cream.” On the other hand, Maika Monroe, who plays a sassy, rebellious soldier in the boot camp, stands out as a badass, feminist role model, with her sharp quips and no-nonsense attitude. Unlike Cassie, Monroe’s character is strong, independent, and wastes no time ogling boys when the end of the world is nigh.
Ultimately, The 5th Wave starts out mediocre and ends as a derivative, comical farce. The irony is that for a film that emphasizes humanity being the key to mankind’s survival, it’s emotionally truncated characters lack the depth that could ever resemble real life. Best of luck to all in surviving the five waves: Confusion, frustration, tedium, fatigue, and finally, disappointment.