The alien invasion is really lame: “The 5th Wave”

January 22, 2016


At some point in the past ten years, Young Adult novels stopped being about young female protagonists falling in love with various supernatural creatures (who then compete for her affections) and started being about young female protagonists killing people (while a couple dudes she doesn’t kill compete for her affections). This is, I guess, a form of progress–it’s better to have an active protagonist after all—and I suppose as long as we’re telling adolescent girls that all the world’s a sausage-party, it’s the responsible thing to also tell them that they’ll have to kill a few people to get past the velvet rope. The new YA adaptation The 5th Wave has its protagonist shoot a dude in the face in its first scene, so you can’t say it doesn’t get down to business.

The circumstances that lead high schooler Cassie Sullivan (Chloe Grace Moretz) to blow that poor dude away comprise the bulk of The 5th Wave, which, like most YA adaptations, is a part of a series. After ventilating the poor dude, we learn that Earth has been decimated by an alien force, which has unleashed four waves of destruction upon it. They start with knocking out the power grid before moving on to causing massive seismic events, a bird flu, and…uh…the fourth wave is a little unclear. But the fifth wave, we learn, will be the final eradication of humankind.


This can’t possibly go well

In short order (read: about a week), Cassie goes from happily being the whitest teenager in existence to a still-very-well-dresses-and-coiffed refugee, looking after her little brother Sammy (Zachary Arthur). They’re separated when their refugee camp is set upon by ominous military types who cart all the kids off to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base and kill all the adults. Cassie, who slipped away while the kids were being corralled, promptly grabs an M4 assault rifle and goes after him.


Just because civilization is more or less at an end doesn’t mean her hair can’t still look great

Along the way she’s injured by human snipers possessed by the aliens and nursed back to health by a hunky loner named Evan (Alex Roe–essentially a block of wood with eyes). Sammy, meanwhile, is inducted into an all-kid military unit run by the flinty Colonel Vosch (Live Scheiber) and the maniacal Sergeant Resnick (Maria Bello). The unit is headed by Cassie’s high school crush, Ben Parish (Nick Robinson), and their job, they are told, is to take the fight to the alien-possessed human fighters.

As Cassie convalesces, she learns that Evan is actually a human/alien hybrid tasked with killing humans (uh-oh). But seems he’s fallen in love with Cassie (aww…), so he’s totally onboard helping her defy their alien soon-to-be-overlords.


“Hey, a little treason never killed anyone…except this dude I’m about to kill.”

While that subplot is crawling along like a snake on barbiturates, Ben’s unit goes into battle, and after some brutal urban fighting discover they’ve been lied to, and that Vosch and Resnick are aliens manipulating them into killing off the remaining humans.

So, while Ben goes back to Wright-Patt to rescue Sammy (who he left behind for his own safety), Cassie and Evan also infiltrate the base to do pretty much the same thing. Dang, lucky thing everyone likes Sammy.


Personally, I would have written the little rug-monkey off as “necessary losses”

So, Evan blows the shit out of the base with, uh, alien magic, I guess, and Cassie kills Resnick before linking up with Ben and rescuing Sammy. The movie ends with her joining the remains of Ben’s unit, swearing to take the fight to the real enemy…whoever that is.

There is a potentially interesting movie lurking somewhere in The 5th Wave’s DNA. A sci-fi movie about children taught by the US military to be remorseless killers could, in the hands of more skilled filmmakers, have been a devastating critique of a country’s whose definition of normal has grown to include “be at war all the time.” Unfortunately, this movie is more interested in playing to its Tiger Beat plotlines, clumsily trying to maneuver some wan characters into a rote teenage love triangle, than thinking too hard about what it’s actually implying.


This is a movie where military uniforms consist of the tightest pants possible.

It doesn’t help that the story makes not a lick of damn sense. I mean, aliens powerful enough to cause destruction on a Biblical scale decide that the best way to wrap things up is to trick kids into going out and murder everyone else? Holy shit, that’s fucking ridiculous. Were they out of good ideas? Was this the plan they came up with on a Friday afternoon? If this was the best plan, what the hell did they take a pass on?

Additionally, the movie wastes some fine actors…no, it actually wastes all its actors. There are no characters in this movie, just vague descriptions of characters. When we’re lucky—as with Maika Monroe’s tough-chick soldier Ringer—we get a stereotype.

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“Just deposit the check and keep moving…”

The actors are all pretty much adrift, though none more than Moretz, a supremely talented actress given absolutely nothing to play beyond “stricken and scared.” Even after she learns that the dude she blew away in the first scene wasn’t an alien, she’s never even given a scene when she grapples with her conscience. Jesus, there has to some crime against wasting talent like that. Monroe is game in her one-note role, but, again, is given nothing to do with the formidable skills she showed in The Guest and It Follows. Seeing two excellent young actresses try and bring some life to the Tinker-Toy script is like watching an Aston Martin DB10 sitting in rush hour traffic.


You just read the script, didn’t you?

Schreiber and Ron Livingston—playing Cassie’s father—seem so bored I have to assume that hack director J Blakeson just cut away whenever they checked their watches. The only two bright spots are courtesy of Maria Bello’s scenery-chewing performance that can only be described as “aggressively white-trash” (she does everything short of glug Mountain Dew and snarf down pork rinds), and Robinson’s Ben. Robinson, last seen running form dinosaurs in Jurassic World, has a stolid presence that seems to be equal parts cynicism and responsibility. He really sells his damaged, weary commander, and has an emotional maturity that translates into a genuine screen presence.

And we never see the aliens. Boo!

So that’s The 5th Wave: a movie with the moral that becoming a remorseless killer is totally okay as long as it facilitates your teenage crush.


  1. Funny review! I laughed out loud several times. 🙂 I’ve liked Chloe Grace Moretz since I saw “Kick-Ass” with my dad in the theater but it seems she hasn’t been picking the best roles lately. She’s not GREAT-great, but she definitely has energy and charisma to spare. And I actually liked “Hick,” even though it was universally panned by the critics. Yeah, but this looks bad. Do we really need another “Hunger Games”-type YA knock-off?

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it. I’m also a little disappointed Moretz’s career hasn’t taken off like it should. She was amazing in Let Me In, which was a hell of a challenging role.

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