“A strong and truly enjoyable action film”

by Steve Pulaski

With The Hunger Games franchise recently concluding, the Harry Potter franchise long out of the picture, and the Divergent series looking to wrap up in a couple months, Hollywood is undoubtedly scrambling to find the next big young adult franchise. Last time this kind of thing happened, we got such forgettable films like Vampire Academy and City of Ember, films that basically seemed to think they could scrape by on their name-recognition that they could, in turn, cover-up their own mediocrity. Now, however, the industry finds itself in more dire straights, so it only seemed right that Rick Yancey’s novel The 5th Wave, the first of a trilogy, would find itself blown up on the big screen sooner or later.

For the first time in recent memory, after practically sneering at every adaptation of “The Hunger Games” in some way and totally dismissing Divergent all around, I’ve found a young adult franchise I’m actually really intrigued in seeing adapted to film. The 5th Wave is a sprawling and immersive action experience, brimful of the kind of emotions that come with apocalyptic destruction that don’t feel like it’s pandering to mawkish sentiments. It’s a wickedly entertaining film, opening with its feet practically sprinting and never letting up, even during its slower, more reserved sequences of buildup and character relations. It’s first film of 2016 you really should see.

The film revolves around Cassie Sullivan (Chloë Grace Moretz), a high school girl who is caught in the middle of utter chaos when a large, foreign spaceship suddenly appears in the sky and hovers over her community. The ship, housing aliens known as “the others,” unleash havoc on Earth in the form of “waves.” The first wave disables anything that runs on power: cell-phones, cars, computers, telephones, motors, engines, generators, electricity, etc. The second wave completely destroys the levee and faultline system of the world, resulting in massive coastal flooding and the destruction of all islands in the blink of an eye. These two waves are designed to weed out the weak and feeble.

The third wave launches a virus that appears like a mixture of Ebola/Swine flu, weakening the immune systems of those who have proven themselves strong enough to survive the first two waves. The more advanced and abstract fourth and fifth waves are what the film focuses on. Upon the first three waves occurring, Cassie, her brother Sammy (Zackary Arthur), and her father Oliver (Ron Livingston) seek refuge at a local internment camp in the woods. During their stay, the U.S. Army arrives, commanded by Colonel Vosch (Liev Schreiber), stating that all the children must be bussed to safety, while the adults need to be inspected because “the others” have found a way to come down to Earth in the form of humans.

The 5th Wave
Directed by
J Blakeson
Chloë Grace Moretz, Matthew Zuk, Gabriela Lopez
Release Date
22 January 2016
Steve’s Grade: A-

Cassie winds up getting separated from Sammy, and she must defend herself as she tries to define the fourth and fifth waves and figure out how to combat them. Meanwhile, the children, from toddler-aged kids to high-schoolers, are essentially drafted into the war with the others, under the command of Ben “Zombie” Parish (Nick Robinson), who happens to be Cassie’s crush. Meanwhile, Cassie seeks comfort under Evan Walker’s (Alex Roe) roof, a local boy who protects her after she’s nearly assassinated by a sniper.

The 5th Wave has one of the most energetic and exciting opening sequences I’ve seen in quite sometime. The film shows the waves unfold to the narration of Moretz, and the chaos is depicted with incredible special effects and pulsating tension that almost makes the film seem like something out of a graphic novel. Few live-action films could capture the energy and excitement of what can happen on the colorful pages of a graphic novel (The 5th Wave is not a graphic novel, to be clear), but this is a film that has that kind of energy and constant intensity found in one of those many volumes. This is also largely in part to the action being so clear and discernible, rather than muddled and incoherent, thanks to the skilled hands of director J Blakeson and cinematographer Enrique Chediak.

Even when The 5th Wave is focusing on conversation between Cassie and Evan, it never becomes boring or poorly paced. The downtime in the middle of the film only makes the bookended scenes of peril and devastation all that more affecting. This is also one of the first young adult films to really be successful at communicating loss and guilt without going overboard in some aesthetic element to communicate said emotion. We can believe the events and how they affect the characters because, for one, screenwriters Susannah Grant, Akiva Goldsman, and Jeff Pinker don’t dwell on “woe is me” sequences for our lead character and constantly emphasize her strength by her actions rather than her image, and two, Moretz is a talented enough performer in her young age to handle enough emotional weight quite effectively.

I find it intriguing how so much emphasis was placed on The Hunger Games‘s Katniss Everdeen character, when she was about as opaque of a character as you can get when it comes to a female hero, and by the end of the second part of Mockingjay, nobody seemed to care that the entire end sequence was a contradiction of her being. Cassie Sullivan finds herself being much more of a riveting character, and Moretz finds herself in a position to showcase her talent rather than her image of female strength and power. The 5th Wave is a strong and truly enjoyable action film that could fittingly stand alongside the other big action releases of this year.