January 24, 2016 -- This film asks the daring question: In a world where your iPhone doesn't work anymore and Facebook is shut down, is life even worth bothering with any more? This film doesn't really answer that question, but it does get into survival mode pretty quick, and it comes up with an interesting solution, that the misfits, the delinquents, the non-conformists in society are those that handle this situation best.
I do hope this film trilogy, based on the books by Rick Yancey, gets completed. That depends on how well audiences take to it. Critics don't like it because, for one thing, it tries to cram way too much plot into a fairly short time frame. I didn't mind the cinematic shorthand, because this is really familiar territory, shared by films like “The Hunger Games,” so it doesn't need to be repeated.
This film did remind me a lot of the first Hunger Games movie in that it was made on a low budget and it had an unconvincing love story. The big difference is that the Hunger Games had a bigger built-in audience and it was not about an alien invasion, but rather a society subjugated by an immoral elite. “The 5th Wave” shares elements with such science fiction classics as Robert Heinlein's “The Puppet Masters” and Jack Finney's “The Body Snatchers,” which became the classic sci-fi film, “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (1956). The story is powered by paranoia and uncertainty.
Chloë Grace Moretz (of the “Kick-Ass” movies) is the main character, Cassie Sullivan, a typical teenager caught up in an alien invasion which consists of five stages. The first causes all devices using electricity to fail. The second is a series of massive earthquakes around the world. The third is a bird flu virus which kills most people. The fourth is a direct invasion in which the aliens start killing the few humans left alive.
The idea of the invasion seems to be to get rid of the humans, while leaving most of their infrastructure, and the global ecosystems, intact. The Fifth Wave is overly clever. I will not reveal the details of it here so as not to spoil the surprise, but it does involve a very elaborately planned and executed series of deceptions. It is also loaded with irony.
The other main character in this story is Ben Parish (AKA Zombie, played by Nick Robinson of “Jurassic World”). Ben goes to the same high school as Cassie. He shows up later in the story, along with Cassie's younger brother, Sam (Zackary Arthur) as part of an army unit at a military base training to kill aliens.
Cassie also meets another man in her travels, Evan Walker (Alex Roe) who takes care of her when she is injured. Their relationship is extremely complicated. It looks like they will meet again, if there is another movie in this series.
Cassie does not turn into some kind of superhero in this story. She is confused and she makes terrible mistakes, but she is smart and does the best she can. The most intriguing character is a soldier called Ringer (Maika Monroe of “It Follows”) who is a tough, delinquent Goth girl who likes to play chess. While most of the kids in basic training are content to go along and do what they are told, she is a troublemaker, an outsider, a non-conformist. These turn out to be life-saving qualities.
Who, but a total outsider would question the practice of training teenagers to be killers when their brains aren't even fully developed? Not many. Despite the limited budget and the unconvincing romance, this film does have some intriguing characters and a complex story structure that is worth further exploration in upcoming movies. I hope they do complete this trilogy. This film rates a B.
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