Sunday, February 7, 2016

"The 5th Wave" Review: A Capable Cast Helps Outweigh Most Of The Formulaic YA Trimmings


If you've seen one YA (Young Adult) movie you've seen them all. Lumping all films in a specific genre together may seem lazy but the YA genre is unlike most others. Although they are all based off different books written by different authors they all seem to share the exact same formula; Female protagonist, dystopian future and some form of love triangle tying the lovelorn teenage cast together. You have to wonder if they are all part of the same Facebook group or something though because there is literally no other explanation as to why all of their works are so derivative of each other and even more perplexing is that they all seem to be alright with that fact. Anyway, now we have the latest YA movie entitled The 5th Wave, a by-the-numbers type of film that isn't good nor is it bad, it just kind of...is. Read the full review after the break.

Review Vital Stats:   
Projector Type: 2D Digital           
Film Rating: PG-13
Film Runtime:  1 hr 52 min
Studio: Sony Pictures
Release Date: January 22, 2016

Biases:  
Loves: Chloe Grace Moretz
Likes: The Hunger Games series, The Maze Runner series
Neutral: Love triangles
Hates: Twilight Saga, The Host
How long until the YA formula goes stale?: Judging by the lack of interest in this movie, not too long.

Not exactly the most stealthy approach for aliens who want to remain unseen.

When a mysterious alien spaceship appears in Earth's atmosphere the world has no idea what they want until a series of events which are referred to as 'waves' begin to occur. The first wave wipes out all electricity across the planet. The second wave causes a near catastrophic planet wide earthquake destroying most large cities. The third wave is an attack using a lethal virus spread by the birds that wipes out most of Earth's population. The fourth wave is a full on invasion with the aliens (referred to as The Others) engaging the few survivors face to...whatever they have. The fifth wave is the final wave which will involve the extermination of all mankind.

Our protagonist is Cassie (Chloe Grace Moretz) a normal teenage girl before the arrival of The Others who over the course of the first four waves has lost both her mother (Maggie Siff) and her father (Ron Livingston). After her brother Sam (Zachary Arthur) is forcefully taken from her by the remnants of the United States military in an attempt to form an army of child soldiers (yeah, you read that right) she sets out on her own to find him. Navigating her way through the devastated world proves to be more than she can handle however until she crosses paths with a man named Evan (Alex Roe) who has been on his own as well ever since he lost his family during the third wave.

It looks like someone just told Chloe she is in a YA movie.

Despite Cassie not fully trusting Evan and his intentions there is an instant chemistry between the two of them which becomes even more complicated by the fact that Cassie's High School crush Ben (Nick Robinson) is still alive. Ben has been recruited by the remaining military along with all the other children to become mankind's ultimate weapon against The Others. Cassie of course eventually comes across Ben because out of all the possible squads her little brother Sam could have been assigned to he just so happens to be under Ben's command (you know, cause it's a love triangle thing). You can bet your life that when Cassie and Ben cross paths that she will be torn between which man she loves more...sigh.

The 5th Wave has a lot of problems but nothing that could be considered a deal breaker, unless you just don't like these types of movies. The set up is intriguing and the cast assembled here is pretty solid (something all YA movies seem to have no problem doing). Even considering its lower budget compared to similar films in the genre the effects work is passable and the world seems appropriately barren and in disarray. Where the problems come in are with how reluctant the author and filmmakers are to break free of that standard YA formula, something that has plagued every teenage romance/action/adventure film released in the past 5 years ever since the first Twilight was released. Much like the film itself, the building blocks of any self respecting YA story has five waves.

THE FIVE WAVES OF THE YA MOVIE:

1st wave: Introduce the female protagonist.

2nd wave: Establish the disaster at hand.

3rd wave: Introduce suspicious adult authority figures.

4th wave: Establish the love triangle for the female protagonist.

5th wave: Reveal that all adults are not to be trusted and the young adults must fight back.

Someone should tell the military that 5 year olds and guns don't usually mix well.

While there is nothing inherently wrong with any of that, the fact that we have seen that exact same formula used in Twilight, The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner and The Host makes them all feel extremely derivative of each other. Even if you like that particular formula it starts to get a bit stale when all movies do the exact same thing as one another. It is actually quite astonishing that these films were all made by different people based off books written by different people. It's as if they all used the same outline and filled in the blanks as they saw fit. Do none of these people care that they are all essentially writing the same books?

There are some other issues not pertaining to the YA formula (although the two are interlinked in more than a few ways), the biggest of which has to be how bland the second half of the movie is. The first half sets us up for what seems to be a fun alien invasion yarn, especially the build up of the first four waves. But the fifth wave segment feels almost like the writer ran out of ideas and went with the most asinine idea for a master plan in quite some time. It is not only highly predictable based on how blatantly the rules are suddenly changed but it just doesn't make any sense given how efficient the earlier waves were. If the The Others could do all that damage from the relative safety of their giant spaceship why not just wait out the humans until they all eventually starve to death?

Most of the better moments revolve around Cassie on her own which doesn't last long.

There are also a ton of logistical problems that pop up. On more than one occasion the film seems to skip certain key plot points such as how Cassie discovers the Others can look like humans. We never see her learn this bit of information yet she somehow knows all about it which just felt lazy and likely the victim of some sort of edit. There is also this glaring omission as to how the military seems to have restored all power and electricity. While that does get answered later you will hard pressed to not become frustrated by how nobody seems to question or even comment on their sudden power capabilities or even why the military needs to recruit kids and let them train themselves until the very end. How about that finale though? Somehow a single person is able to plant enough explosives all over the alien base in a matter of minutes that not only destroys their entire mile wide compound but causes a massive sink hole. What kind of explosives were those again?

At least the casting agent did their job admirably because the one thing that makes the second half of the film even remotely tolerable are the actors. Now nobody is gonna be winning any awards or anything but having someone like Chloe Moretz in the lead role goes a long way in keeping any sort of interest in what happens to her character. You may think that it doesn't really matter who is in the lead role of a YA style film but just take a second and think back to how beneficial Jennifer Lawrence was to the success of The Hunger Games and how detrimental Kristen Stewart was to Twilight. Luckily Moretz falls more into the same category as Jennifer Lawrence.
 
Queue interchangeable male model who must complicate Cassie's love life.

Some solid supporting work from the likes of Ron Livingston, Liev Schrieber and Mario Bello also scores some points to help the film never fully succumb to its inherent YA nature. There is even an appearance by Maika Monroe (who is completely unrecognizable) who helps make those painfully laughable scenes of kids in training feel like more than just a poor imitation of Starship Troopers.The 5th Wave represents a sort of middle ground in the genre. It isn't as bad as Twilight or The Host, but it isn't as good as The Hunger Games or The Maze Runner. It does everything competently enough and has the bonus of casting Chloe Moretz in the lead role who has always been an extremely talented and relatable young actress but not much else.

As expected the ending isn't really an ending at all and is more of a lead in to what was likely intended to be a second part (a YA movie trilogy? No way, that never happens). So don't go in expecting any sort of satisfying conclusion as you will be sorely disappointed. It is really difficult to say one way or another if you will like or hate The 5th Wave but it is easy to recommend skipping it in the theater. While the cast and intriguing first half of the film definitely warrant a recommendation for curious fans of the YA genre, the lukewarm second half coupled with a number of frustrating unanswered questions that get answers way too late and a surprisingly uneventful finale make this a better choice for a rental at best.


FINAL THOUGHTS:

The 5th Wave isn't the worst thing you will see this year but it also doesn't make a big enough impact to be particularly memorable either. If you absolutely need to see another YA movie to get your fix go ahead and check it out now otherwise just wait for it to hit home and see it then. As for whether or not we will actually get the sequel it seems to be working towards...I liked it enough to see it if it ever happens but wont' really be that upset if it never happens, so take that as you will.

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