Well…here we go again. Ever since The Hunger Games brought in buckets of dough, a new and increasingly tedious genre has emerged of YA dystopia movies. They’re all essentially the same, except each successive franchise is worse than the last. Divergent seemed like the bottom of the barrel until The Maze Runner came along. Somehow both proved to be worldwide successes. So now we have The 5th Wave, a movie that trudges through the genre’s motions with such disinterest and dispassion that it’s borderline insulting to watch. In fact, the last third of the movie was met with waves of laughter from the preview audience I shared the special experience with. If someone told me this was a parody of YA dystopian tales, I’d believe it. But that’s wishful thinking. It’s real and sadly, there’s a chance it will be successful. Outside of The Hunger Games series, the standard for this genre is pretty low.
This time Hit Girl (Chloe Moretz) stars as the tough young girl in a destroyed world. Aliens were responsible for the mess this time. First they appeared in silent ships hovering above cities like Independence Day or District 9. Then they started their attack in waves. The first wave was shutting down all earthly technology. The second wave was a series of natural disasters. The third wave thinned out the human race through a virus. The fourth wave brought the arrival of aliens that looked just like humans. The fifth wave is the big twist ending of the movie that anyone with half a brain will see coming a mile away.
So how about Hit Girl? Well, she slowly watches her family get depleted down to her little brother (Zackary Arthur), who is then taken away. Thankfully, her high school crush (Jurassic World’s Nick Robinson) survives, so she can still do some teen pining. She also picks up skills with a gun rather quickly and after being injured is nursed back to health by a hunky college boy (Alex Roe), who loves to take his shirt off. Yay, a love triangle! While Chloe is suffering next to a shirtless hunk, Robinson and Arthur are taken by the military. Led by Liev Schreiber, the military has inexplicably decided to round up children and train then to machinegun down the alien threat. Odd choice, but given that they find a moody teen girl with earth’s remaining supply of eye shadow (It Follows’ Maika Monroe) they might be on the right track. Obviously everyone comes together for a shoot out finale, but a small one in accordance with the limited budget.
Yep, the script is a cut and paste job combining pieces from Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, Twilight, and Invasion Of The Body Snatches into one big dumb mess. There’s a palpable sense that no one involved with the project (especially the original novelist and three screenwriters assigned to “write” this thing) cared about what they were doing. Sadly directing duties fell onto Brit J. Blakeson who showed considerable promise in his kidnapping debut The Disappearance Of Alice Creed. Based on that movie alone, it’s clear the guy has talent. Not that he gets an opportunity to show it in The 5th Wave. Budget limitations ensure that every scene takes place in an abandoned house, empty woods, generic cement buildings, or other affordable and personality-free existing locations. He doesn’t get to display his visual style either, merely shooting in the vaguely underlit aesthetic defined by these movies. There’s never much sense of tension even though the stakes are life or death. Since the movie is so obviously one long set up for a franchise, it’s clear no one important will die. So pretty people occupy frames barely acting until the whole thing mercifully comes to a close.
The acting is pretty terrible across the board. Even Moretz who is typically a strong screen presence brings nothing to the movie beyond a series of pouts. Her twin love interests have little to do beyond appearing pretty while looking longingly at her. Maika Monroe might deliver a decent performance, but it’s hard to tell given that her laughably distracting emo costume. The child actors all seem lost, especially during the action sequences that they are supposed to sell. The adult cast are merely going through the motions and waiting for their paychecks. The only guy who doesn’t thoroughly embarrass himself is the unflappable Liev Schreiber and even that’s likely the result that mumbling dialogue in vaguely threatening monotone is his forte. He should have been in a better YA sci-fi soap opera than this.
There’s really nothing positive that can be said about The 5th Wave and given that everyone involved makes it clear that the couldn’t care less about the final result, it’s hard to even feign an interest as a viewer. This is Xerox filmmaking at it’s worst, copying past successes without adding anything new and hoping that hungry audiences won’t notice. It’s a wretched enough that it will hopefully be a breaking point for the tween viewers who constantly eat this crap up and ask for seconds. However, I thought that about both Divergent and The Maze Runner and somehow both of those movies managed to bust the box office wide open. Perhaps lightening will strike four times and if so, god help us all. However, if the accidental explosion laughter at the screening I attended signals anything, it’s that these genre tropes are getting too repetitive to take seriously anymore. Someone really needs to make a YA dystopia parody movie pronto. The 5th Wave practically is one without even going for laughs. All it would take to transform this into comedy gold would be sillier character names and a couple comedians in small roles who get the joke. Make it happen, Hollywood.