If the titular “wave” of this film is meant to refer one of the waves of nausea I felt watching an endless stream of young-adult fiction cliches bounce off the screen, then I could at least give The 5th Wave credit for truth in advertising. Unfortunately, it refers to a series of indirect attacks made on hapless earthlings by their invading alien overlords. Have you ever asked yourself, “Hey, what if we took the Biblical plagues from Exodus, made them about 70 percent less menacing, and replaced Moses with a 16-year-old girl?” If so, then you might be Oscar-winning screenwriter Akiva Goldsman. whose work is spotty at best. Bear in mind that on the spectrum of his output, The 5th Wave is less along the lines of A Beautiful Mind and closer to his dubious accomplishments on the regrettable Joel Schumacher entries in the Batman series (yes, the man who wrote Batman and Robin has an Oscar). Consider that the director responsible for this tripe can’t even be bothered to spell out his Christian name and you’ll have some indication of the importance this film places on writing.
It might be tempting to heap all of the responsibility for this abortive sci-fi series builder at the feet of Goldsman and his little golden statuette — but to be fair, the script did pass through the hands of three writers, and was itself based on a preexisting series of novels. So while the ridiculous plot and don’t-trust-anyone-over-30 pubescent paranoia can probably be blamed on novelist Rick Yancey, the culpability for the leaden pacing, dialogue-heavy exposition and shallow characterization must all be attributed to Goldsman and his team of check-chasing script doctors. No script in which a central character asks “Where can I take a bullet to the torso and not die?” only to be told in all seriousness “There’s too many organs!” should get another pass or three before the writers let it see the light of day.
But a film doesn’t get this bad by virtue of a lazy script alone. Director J. Blakeson seems to be laboring under the misperception that paramilitary action sequences should read visually like low-budget video games. What’s more, the movie’s hokey plot device — in which the invading “Others” are actually brain sucking parasites that can only be seen with special glasses — screams out for the blatant hucksterism of William Castle. Failing to capitalize on a solid gimmick such as handing out alien-detecting glasses in the spirit of Castle’s 13 Ghosts promotion, The 5th Wave presents its schtick with stone-faced seriousness, leading to a thoroughly ridiculous third act that would’ve been a comedic masterwork if only the film had been in on its own joke.
The cast really can’t be blamed for the script they’ve been given to work with, but not one of them successfully elevates the material beyond the dreck on the page. Chloë Grace Moretz doesn’t seem quite capable of carrying a film this convoluted on her own, Liev Schrieber seems like he can’t be bothered to do much of anything other than glower, and Maria Bello is almost unrecognizable as a truly bizarre white trash Josef Mengle wearing way too much foundation. Maika Monroe stands out as possibly the one character in the film capable of making rational decisions, but as the sole exception to this YA fiction rule, her character is all but entirely marginalized.
An underutilized cast, a profoundly weak script, and ham-fisted direction leave The 5th Wave with little chance of appealing to a broad market, even if cliche-addled teens and tweens might line up for the first week or so. If you thought Independence Day was too much of a high-brow intellectual think-piece, then The 5th Wave might be the ticket for you. Even the film’s target demographic can’t possibly condone this level of nonsense. Of course, I could be mistaken. After all, I’m an adult, and therefore my faculties for evaluating the appeal of apocalyptic teen melodramas may well have been compromised by the alien parasite known as “good taste.”
Rated PG-13 for violence and destruction, some sci-fi thematic elements, language and brief teen partying.