‘The 5th Wave’ Review: YA Sci-Fi Enters Self-Parody

'The 5th Wave'

Movie Rating:


OK ‘tweens, listen up. I’ve watched a lot of these dystopic YA romances in recent years. I’ll admit that ‘The Hunger Games’ grew on me and that I too read many sad, dark, two-dimensional tales when I was your age because they made me feel deep and moody. However, enough is enough.

Each new franchise tossed on screens trying to get a piece of the ‘Hunger Games’ pie has been worse than the last. ‘Divergent’ felt like a pale imitation of ‘Hunger Games’, ‘The Maze Runner’ felt like a pale imitation of ‘Divergent’, and now we’re one more step removed with ‘The 5th Wave’. It’s getting ridiculous. Please don’t support ‘The 5th Wave’. Let these movies die so the next trend can emerge. If the central hook appeals to you, I get it. But please do the world a favor and watch any version of ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ instead. If you want, you can even paste a picture of a shirtless boy on one side of the screen and a dark haired girl with too much eye-liner on the other to aid in your transition. I promise it’ll be worth the effort and filmgoers everywhere will thank you for your noble service.

Chloe Moretz stars as another tough girl in a topsy-turvy world. This time, aliens are to blame. They’re taking over the planet. It happened in waves (hence the title). The first wave shut down all technology. The second wave took the form of a variety of natural disasters. The third wave thinned the human herd through a virus. The fourth wave involved aliens that look just like humans coming to Earth. The fifth wave is the final plot reveal and you’ll see it coming a mile away.

In the midst of all that trouble, Cassie Sullivan (Moretz) lost her parents. Now she wanders desolate landscapes clutching guns in search of her little brother (Zackery Arthur). The only comforts she has come in the form of her high school dream boy (Nick Robinson) and the often shirtless college boy (Alex Roe) who mended her from a gun wound. Her brother and her high school crush have been rounded up by army officers led by Liev Schreiber. He’s training children to become soldiers to kill off the alien threat. So yeah, the world is a big ol’ mess. Thank god Moretz has that love triangle to keep her mind off of things.

The biggest flaw in ‘The 5th Wave’ is the complete dispassion with which it has been created. The story provided by the original novel and no less than three screenwriters merely trudges through the checklist of YA dystopia requirements. Adults = evil, teens = humanity’s last hope, black jump suits = casual attire, emoting = everything, etc. There’s little life to the tale and even less sense of forward momentum. Each scene passes by with cold inevitability rather than narrative necessity or satisfaction. It’s as much of a drag to sit through as it must have been to write. Directing duties fell onto J. Blakeson, whose previous feature was the fantastic modern noir ‘The Disappearance of Alice Creed’. That was such an assured and stylish debut that he seemed primed to deliver a special follow-up. Alas, he ended up on ‘The 5th Wave’ and all his filmmaking personality disappeared in favor of the irritating, underlit house style of YA dystopic blockbusters. What a shame. Hopefully he’ll be allowed to write or at least have some measure of control over his next feature.

The performances are all so muted that they may as well be silent. No one really registers, certainly not Moretz, who picked one pouty face to entirely define her character and never wavers. Robinson and Roe are essentially just man-meat assigned to look pretty until Moretz arrives, at which point they’re allowed to look longingly while appearing pretty. The adults can’t be bothered to do much more than whimper and collect the paychecks that they hope will grow with sequels. Admittedly, the consistently excellent Liev Schreiber doesn’t embarrass himself, but it’s unclear how much of that is deliberate or merely a result of his “Betcha can’t catch me acting” style. Regardless, it’s tough to watch the whole cast suffer through a production that they clearly didn’t care about. The collective apathy is at least justified by the uninspired and generic surroundings. It would have been tough to put in much effort when it was so obvious that no one else was really trying either.

There’s really no need to attend ‘The 5th Wave’ since you’ve already seen everything it has to offer. This is one of those apocalyptic worlds that just happens to be based around abandoned houses, empty wilderness, stone buildings and other cheap and easy shooting locations. You know, it’s the same world where desolate survivors of a destroyed planet are still sharply dressed with perfect hair and light makeup (or, in the case of one particularly emo kid soldier, heavy eye shadow). It’s one of those quaint apocalypses where everyone can still clean up and look sexy while scavenging for food and water. Looks are important in these scorched lands since every girl has at least two dreamboats pining over her at once.

Honestly, this stuff has gotten so overblown and overplayed that it’s amazing no one has made a parody movie yet. It sure would be easy. Honestly, with sillier character names, ‘The 5th Wave’ could be that parody already. Nothing else would need to be changed. It certainly got plenty of laughs at the preview screening I attended without striving for them. God willing, the ‘tweens will giggle it off screens when it opens this weekend because no one deserves to sit through two more of these movies and the cast are already visibly exhausted. Stick a pin in this genre, folks. It’s done.


  1. Frankly, the snobbery of this article makes me want to go buy a ticket.I mean, God forbid stories be aimed at a particular age group. They should all be aimed at aging Boomers, their unfulfilled fantasies and their nostalgia. Bring on the revival of the terrible sexist romcoms!

    Anything but stuff for… YOUNG PEOPLE! The horror! And… SF? NERD STUFF!

    And frankly, your “all these SF YA tales are total ripoffs and each one is a pale copy of the last one!” thing is rather ridiculous, given that most of the ones listed are different kinds of SF, with different elements (mystery, horror, social commentary) woven in. It more highlights that the reviewer is incapable of differentiating and individually judging different examples of a given genre, which is not something that they should try to highlight. In short, it comes across less as a review and more a rant from someone bitter that he’s not being catered to.

    • C.C.

      Maybe you should read some books instead of watching mindless drivel. In said books, you might learn that “Boomers” were born between 1946 and 1964. That would mean Philip would have to be 51 years old to be considered a “Boomer”.
      It is actually painful to watch Millennials declare how intelligent they are with supreme arrogance, yet demonstrate with regularity that can’t tie a shoe or read an analog clock face.

    • EM

      There is this theory going around that movies made to appeal for a youth market can also appeal to adults and simultaneously not be steaming piles of sickness-inducing crap. Ya know…stuff like Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, the Looney Tunes cartoons, the original Star Wars trilogy, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, the Toy Story trilogy, that sort of thing.

    • Chris B

      Now that you.ve said that I’m kind of curious how many actual good movies have been released in January/February which is known for all the crap. Someone should make a top ten list.

      • EM


        NUMBER TEN…January 1, 2000: Fantasia 2000

        NUMBER NINE…January 13, 1939: Son of Frankenstein

        NUMBER EIGHT…January 29, 1993: Matinee

        NUMBER SEVEN…February 5, 1936: Modern Times

        NUMBER SIX…January 29, 1964: Dr. Strangelove

        NUMBER FIVE…February 26, 1920: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

        NUMBER FOUR…January 29, 1959: Sleeping Beauty

        NUMBER THREE…January 30, 1931: City Lights

        NUMBER TWO…January 10, 1927: Metropolis

        And the number-one great film released during the first two months of its début year is…

        …February 12, 1931: Dracula (English-language version)

        (Rankings are solely at my own fickle discretion.)

  2. Hunger Games is excellent stuff, more of the Harry Potter of these types of movies, it has great acting and great spectacle and was way better than I expected that series to be.

    Saying The Maze Runner is a poor imitation of Divergent clearly shows me you dont know the material or how different those two movies are, Maze Runner is superior in every way as a film AND as a book series, The Scorch Trials was a poor adaption but it was a pretty fun movie on its own, the movie series has had great FX a decent cast and has really gone completely in a different direction than most of these YA movies have, there is no love triangle in the Maze Runner.

    But I think I will watch this one when i get the chance, I like Chloe quite a bit, she’s getting prettier all the time 🙂 and it really just sounds like these arent geared towards your tastes which makes the review sound extremely biased and hateful

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