FILM REVIEW – THE 5TH WAVE. With Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Robinson, Alex Roe, Liev Schreiber, Maria Bello. Written by Susannah Grant and Akiva Goldsman & Jeff Pinkner. Directed by J Blakeson. Rated PG-13 for violence and destruction, some sci-fi thematic elements, language and brief teen partying. 112 minutes.
It’s not easy being a teenage girl in a post-apocalyptic world…. unless you’re in a YA novel. Then, in “The Hunger Games” or “Divergent,” you get to fight bad guys, worry about which dreamy guy you’re going to end up with, and deal with alien or futuristic technology. Of course that’s a gross over-simplification and, when it’s done well, the books can be quite successful. In adapting these books to the big screen, Hollywood has been looking for the next franchise. They just may have found it with THE 5TH WAVE.
Based on a trilogy of novels by Rick Yancey (the third is due out this year), its focus is Cassie (Chloë Grace Moretz) who is trying to surive an alien invasion of Earth by an unseen enemy known as “The Others.” After using an electromagnetic pulse to shut down the world’s power, causing floods and tidal waves, and launching a deadly viral outbreak, The Others set out to wipe out the remaining human survivors.
To say much more about the plot would be give away some of the twists and turns it takes. Suffice to say Cassie and several other young characters have their work cut out for them. Naturally there are a couple of boys who will pull her in different directions. Ben (Nick Robinson) is a high school classmate on whom she had a crush. He’s survived and is now working with the Army–led by Colonel Vosch (Liev Schreiber)–to fight back against the aliens. Then there’s Evan (Alex Roe), who rescues Cassie at one point but may not be what he seems.
About that rescuing: the young women in the film are no shrinking violets. When Evan says he wants to protect Cassie she makes it very clear that she fully intends to protect herself. In spite of the romantic subplots in these stories, the female protagonists kick ass and don’t bother taking names.
Casting Moretz as Cassie was a smart move. Like Jennifer Lawrence in “The Hunger Games” films and Shailene Woodley in the “Divergent” series, Moretz is first and foremost an actress playing a complex character. We have to believe that she can kill and that she would be seriously upset to discover that she’s capable of killing. She can play the teenage girl having to choose between two guys, but also the big sister risking everything to rescue her little brother Sam (Zackary Arthur). In short, she’s got to be capable of carrying the film, be appealing to the guys in the audience, and be a strong role model for teen and tween girls. It’s a tall order, and Moretz pulls it off well enough that one doesn’t mind the prospect of two (please only two) more films.
If “The 5th Wave” is a success, look for the trend of YA adaptations to the big screen to continue. As the old joke has it, in Hollywood, everyone is first in line to be second.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.