The 5th Wave washes over you like tepid bathwater: At best, it’s a lukewarm experience. Based on yet another dystopian young adult novel featuring a teenage female protagonist out to save the world (what hath The Hunger Games wrought?), the movie recounts an alien conquest of Earth executed in a series of waves, starting with an electromagnetic pulse that cripples mankind’s technology, followed by natural disasters (earthquakes, floods, tsunamis), a deadly avian viral epidemic, and the extraterrestrial inhabitance of human bodies, all aimed at eradicating the planet’s population in a hostile takeover. Think of it as the apocalyptic version of the plagues in the Book of Exodus, but with the good guys and bad guys reversed. The fifth wave, strangely enough, is (spoiler alert, as if it matters) the military conscription of children to unwittingly kill the world’s few remaining adult survivors, a mystifying strategy given the otherworldly invaders’ unquestionable supremacy over their mortal prey. Why not just zap a death ray or two from the massive mother ship hovering above (why does alien spacecraft always look like a humongous steely porcupine?) to complete the mission, rather than go to the trouble of incorporating unreliable kid soldiers as part of the master plan for world domination? It doesn’t make any sense. And they say we’re the inferior species.
In the central role of Cassie, Chloe Grace Moretz is no stranger to kickass heroics, but she’s hamstrung here, particularly in her interactions with pretty-boy Alex Roe, who plays the Prince Charming who rescues her from sniper fire. (With that face and body, he’s too perfect to be human.) In particular, Cassie doesn’t always put two and two together. Early on, she fails to appreciate the import of a massacre she witnesses, seemingly surprised later to learn the truth about something you figured out an hour ago. But you can’t blame the girl. The improbabilities pile on so absurdly as the movie regresses to its thudding finale it’s a wonder anyone knows what’s going down. (The highlight here is a scene in which Maria Bello’s ball-busting sergeant puckers up for the kiss of death.) The open-ended conclusion of The 5th Wave signals an intent to continue this apocalyptic saga in future installments, similar to its predecessors in the genre. Don’t bet on it. Given the likely reception to this movie, it’s unlikely there will be a sixth wave anytime soon.
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