The force is strong with this one. “The force” being the determination to ruin one of the best science fiction novels in years. You would think we would be living in a time now where the memories of certain teen fantasy love stories were behind us. Although it appears some studio executives still find value in churning out another Twilight fantasy to bag some revenue. January is often referred to as the dumping ground for film releases after the wave of awards season contenders, and annoyingly, The 5th Wave holds up that legacy, spewing out a pedestrian, blasé package of young adult dystopian fiction which, considering the material they have developed from, is crushingly novice.
Chloe Grace Moretz stars as Cassie Sullivan, one of the few survivors of waves of alien attacks that have devastated the world, as she attempts to find her little brother, who was taken by soldiers who might be more than they appear led by Cornel Vosch (Liev Schreiber). Along the way she finds herself rescued by Evan Walker (Alex Roe), who also may not be who he says he is. Then some romance stuff happens, but that’s where it gets boring.
Rick Yancey’s 2013 novel was a smash hit when released. It was a genre blending fair of teen action and romance whilst delving into deeper, harder hitting psychology of the ending of civilisation, as well as explosions of shocking violence. The novel cleverly twists your expectations of the aliens (referred to as ‘Others’) by richly exploring their justifications and adding layers of depth to their actions. Absolutely none of these qualities have made it into the film. Great chunks of what made the book a triumph have been hacked away, making room for the bland tropes of bog standard YA dystopian cinema, which has been done to death at this point.
For starters, everything just feels too clean. Despite the end of the world and civilisation’s destruction within the first half an hour, all of the cast remain remarkably well-kept with immaculate, unmarked clothing. During the waves when they first hit, there are moments of interesting imagery which clearly have been given some attention, the main being the gigantic waves that decimate coastal towns. Other than that, there is nothing convincing about the look of the film, and as a result, you are immediately detached. There’s one female character, played by It Follows’ Maika Monroe, who is in a training camp, and yet wears deep black mascara on her eyes throughout the entire ordeal. She never takes it off. Where does it come from? How does she have it on even when training? It’s never explained. It’s hard to suspend any disbelief and buy into the story when it appears that hardly any of the characters are affected by it. There’s no visceral authenticity, which is what any post-apocalyptic picture needs.
Secondly, every single character that was fleshed out and given a hard backstory in the book have been morphed into generic teen roles that have no colour or individual flare. Chloe Moretz, who hasn’t been given an rich opportunity to display her talents for several years now, has never been so wasted in a film – the character of Cassie had such potential and suited her perfectly, and boy does she try to invigorate, but her personality has been so dulled down that she just resembles a blonde Bella Swan. I don’t make that reference likely, but it’s soul-destroying to see such a strong actress in a role that should have been just as strong wander around for a bit but then just have her character defined by a quasi-love triangle. The two men that are involved in this are, with all due respect, a boy who looks like a reincarnation of Justin Beiber (Jurassic World’s Nick Robinson) and Alex Roe, playing Evan, who is the Taylor Launter of the film. Robinson has no conviction, no drive, and Roe is a blank slate, viewed as nothing more than a piece of meat with plenty of talents. Literally – we see him chopping wood and getting sweaty, and then bathing with his shirt off – and it just screams Twilight.
The script cuts away all the psychology of the characters and just hones in on the romance between Cassie and Evan, and not only is it terribly written, lifeless, and just plain insulting to anyone who enjoyed the book, it just feels phoned in to get the teen audiences to rack up box office figures. The studio must have thought the audiences weren’t interested in gritty psychology, but bland love triangles. Yes, romance was present in the book, but it didn’t trample on the more interesting themes.
On the subject of phoning stuff in, Leiv Schreiber’s Cornel Vosch has been neglected beyond belief. He does some unspeakable things in the book, but here he does nothing. Nothing. He pops up a few times and explains a bit of plot, talks to some children, then pops off again. That wouldn’t be too bad if he felt threatening in any way, but, as you might have guessed, he does not. That might be due to Schreiber looking and sounding so bored that he wants to bail out with his cheque ASAP, or the fact that the writers just didn’t care to develop their villain. In the final 20 minutes we get an experience that reminisces Fantastic Four’s insta-kill approach to Doctor Doom – characters converge, do their stuff, have a few awkward interactions, things blow up, and things are wrapped up so swiftly you wonder if it really just happened. Naturally this was designed to be the first in a trilogy, so everything is left wide open and completely unresolved.
The most aggravating thing about The 5th Wave is that it will now be viewed as ‘just another YA romance’ that has shoddy romantic tropes with cardboard characters, instead of the brilliant, complex, psychological science-fiction that it is. And if more get made, it may end up making things worse. The film discards everything it had going in its favour and opts for dull, dry teen romance against an uneven background of empty characters and unimpressive visuals, and puts its source material, and star, to shame. Chloe Grace Moretz, and Rick Yancey, deserve so much more than this.