I love YA (young adult) novels. They’re a guilty pleasure of mine, in addition to a surprising number of my friends and even former teachers. (I’d be remiss if I failed to note that Goodreads.com has proven YA is actually pretty common among women my age.)
Whether relating to the struggles of youth — Rainbow Rowell might as well be writing my life’s story — or getting swept away into fantastic stories that sometimes aren’t all that different from those geared for adults, it’s easy to find something to like in YA novels. Unfortunately, not all YA novels are created equal, and neither are film adaptations based upon books.
This week, I decided to take a chance on “The 5th Wave” starring Chloë Grace Moretz as Cassie, a teen whose world is shattered when aliens attack the planet.
I’ve not read the book, written by Rick Yancey, but the reviews I’ve seen have been pretty decent. Unfortunately for Moretz and Co., the film hasn’t been the beneficiary of many kind words. I’m not sure how true the film stayed to the book. I’ve seen some adaptations that go their own merry way, including both the film and television versions of Cassandra Clare’s “The Mortal Instruments.”
Anyway, the premise is that aliens have come to take our world, with each “wave” becoming more deadly. The first wave is an electromagnetic pulse that globally knocks out Earth’s power. The second wave features earthquakes that cause the planet’s bodies of water to flow across the earth, killing millions.
The third wave is just as deadly. The aliens, called the Others, release a flu-like virus that kills a good chunk of the world’s remaining population. Some are stricken but survive, while most become just bodies piled wherever there is room.
The fourth wave doesn’t have as high a body count, but it’s perhaps the most terrifying of all. The Others are walking amongst us, killing off survivors. The fifth wave is a little harder to describe, without completely spoiling the movie and/or book. Although, if you take my advice, this movie isn’t one you’ll plan on seeing. If you haven’t heeded my words and want to know more, the fifth wave is a full-on attack, led by an army of children who are taken from their parents to a military base. Cassie’s brother, Sam, (Zackary Arthur) is one of those recruited to fight.
Moretz, already a seasoned actress at 18, tries her very best, but she can’t save this film from itself. The source material, or at least its premise, is actually pretty decent, but “The 5th Wave” is more than a little ridiculous.
The main focus seems to be holding onto humanity. There are aliens that look like humans, humans who don’t know they’re aliens and survivors who must resort to extraordinary measures in order to live. Cassie struggles most of the movie to be reunited with her brother after he’s taken to the base, and she’s left behind.
It’s during this struggle that the movie seems to fall apart. Before that, we, along with Cassie, are watching the world fall apart. It’s actually interesting. Completely depressing, but interesting.
Cassie’s mother (Maggie Siff) falls victim to the flu while her father (Ron Livingston) is the most non-supportive parent ever. His words of wisdom include telling his children the world will be wiped clean of humans and there’s no safe place anywhere anymore while he gives his teenage daughter a handgun.
It’s all downhill from there. Liev Schreiber is in a pretty stale role as an Army colonel charged with rallying the child troops. He’s flat and uninteresting. The super talented Maria Bello, on the other hand, is over the top as a sergeant with too much makeup, a non-regulation hairdo and a bad accent.
Alex Roe is a pretty, but rather wooden, love interest for Cassie. His name is Evan. He likes long walks in the woods, chopping wood and taking baths in the lake. Those latter two points are his only valuable contributions to the film.
If you haven’t guessed, that’s part of the problem. What could have been an interesting, thrilling sci-fi tale of alien invasion instead falls victim to the tired, standard practice of a YA poorly done romance and love triangle. Don’t get me wrong. The film does have some tense moments, but they’re all pretty much in the first 30 minutes.
Cassie and Evan actually make it to the base to find her brother, and the rescue is halted as Evan and Ben (Nick Robinson) face off while Cassie tries to explain to each of these knuckleheads who the other is. The whole movie, Cassie is focused on finding her brother when she isn’t lusting after Evan or making out with him in the woods but when Sam is that close, the rescue comes second to the ridiculous romance. Seriously?
“The 5th Wave” could have been something entertaining, but instead we’re left with boring archetypes of characters that prove to be nothing special or entertaining and a predictable plot twist we could see coming a mile away. Maybe the novel fleshes out the story and the characters, but that doesn’t really help anybody who is going to see this movie. YA should never be this bad.