Movie Review: The 5th Wave

Before I begin, I feel it necessary to express my feelings on the Oscars “controversy.” Normally I do not get involved with issues that are meaningless to the point thinking about them taxes on one’s intellect, but I have been so annoyed by the fallout I cannot ignore it. To put it simply, Alejandro Inarritu (The Revenant) is Mexican, Hiromasa Yonebayashi (When Marnie Was There) is Japanese, and three of the five nominations for Best Foreign Language Film are from non-white countries. If people stopped worrying about how someone looks or what genitals they have, then maybe we could see the reality of the situation and judge people as people. Did you ever consider that the reason why no colored actors were nominated is because no one was good enough? If you are so desperate to have diversity in an awards show that will mean nothing the second it is over, I recommend researching all of nominees to satisfy your racist beliefs before making judgments. You have a brain for reason, idiots.

* * *

We have been here before, young adult (YA) genre. Female protagonist. Love triangle. Familial devotion. Psychological trauma. Dystopia. Obvious antagonists. Allegories. And stupid names for things. It was not long ago you showed promise and after so many years of annual releases, the banality of your existence is impossible to ignore. Since Hunger Games wrapped up I expect an endless precession of YA adaptations to fill the gap. Maze Runner is a broken wreck and Divergent is boring, yet their completion feels obligatory. If only you could die so I do not have to repeat myself.

I have said on more than one occasion (I think) that all movies are same story repeated ad nauseam, but the way they are made is what sets them apart. Django Unchained and Conan are about slaves getting revenge, but it is the genre, and setting that makes them different. Of course, not all YA are created equal with a good helping of romance, fantasy, and dramas, but the most common form is the one I described above. Because Hunger Games was so successful, every new movie since will follow that formula. Is 5th Wave another failed clone or should Katniss Everdeen make way for what’s-her-face?

Following the arrival of a large spaceship, a series of disasters gradually kill off humanity as the aliens begin to take over. After her little brother Sam, played by Zachary Arthur, is drafted into a resistance force and her father killed, Cassie, played by Chloe Grace Moretz, goes on a journey across the devastated landscape infested with alien drones to save him.

This movie is bad. It is every YA title ever butchered in all the ways you can possibly screw up a film. Its genesis, I feel, is one of cynicism. Desperate to save face after losing Spider-Man, Sony decided to capitalize off the success of the YA genre. So, they took a modestly successful book kids have probably read and adapted it with little to no effort. I assume they thought they could recoup costs on brand recognition and genre without considering the quality of their work and what it will mean for the poor saps involved.

Problems started within the first 20 minutes and it only got worse.

The biggest issue is the character of Cassie. We know next to nothing about her and we do not learn anything else as the story progresses. She cares about her brother and has an existential crisis when confronted with the prospect of killing people, but it is never said why she cares so much. It could be the familial devotion trope, but often times in fiction there is a concrete reason behind it. Did something happen to Sam in the past that would make Cassie extra protective or was he adopted and she is just trying to a cool sister? I would not know because this movie did not make it clear enough. At least in Twilight we understood from the outset that Bella Swan was a dick-hungry sociopath.

The real bad guy, however, is made blatantly obvious yet played off like a twist come the climax. Spoilers, it is the military under alien control that took the kids after they massacred their parents in a barn. I would have been shocked if I was not rolling my eyes and groaning. Another give-away was the soldiers’ nonchalant exit from said barn like they did not commit a war crime two seconds ago. Their plan is to use an army of children to wipe out the remaining humans in complete their takeover. I understand this is an allegory for adults using kids to fight their wars because we are totally living in the late ‘60s, but how they do it defeats the whole purpose.

The age of recruits range from about nine to the late teens, which are then organized into squads. Basically, you have toddlers running around in combat gear with weapons that are bigger than them. I get they are being used as cannon fodder to finish a job the aliens could have done themselves, but when it comes to organizing a basic military outfit designed for attrition, they are about as competent as General Westmoreland. Shaka Zulu in the 1800s made use of all age groups in his army, but they were organized according to age in a way that gave them a tactical advantage. Obviously the very young would stay behind to guard the camp while the teens and elders did the fighting. Here, the aliens just threw everyone together expecting it work, and ended up foiling their own plan when the kids were slaughtered. Even Hitler would say they are trying too hard.

In addition to being a poorly thought out narrative that needed to be gutted and put back together, 5th Wave is not especially well made. Some areas that stuck out were insert shots of alien drones flying around that were obviously shoved in post-production. Between cuts there will be a single shot of the drone passing from one end of the frame to another. I guess they were trying to make up for the fact there are virtually no visual indicators of the aliens’ presence. One shot that made me gasp was one of a controlled human walking down a hill with a rifle. About 10 minutes later, after a chunk of time has passed in the story, the same human with rifle walking down a hill is repeated at what looked like a flopped angle; the same shot with the frame flipped over. It was jarring and an elementary mistake an editor should know to avoid. And for a movie so inexpensive and flawed in form, I cannot fathom why anyone in the production thought using CGI was a good idea. Wow, is all I can say.

All of these problems culminate in an experience that makes 5th Wave utter trite, until you take into account the intent. This was an attempt to capitalize off the success of the YA genre and it fails spectacularly. The way it fails in the story, effects, and general design makes for some funny moments. Between rolling my eyes and contemplating getting a refund, I was laughing at the awkward dialog and botched tropes that make YA boring to watch. In retrospect, 5th Wave is not a bad movie, but a good bad movie.

Like its many problems it started at the beginning where Cassie was recounting the waves that came before. While her dull voiceover plays, we see a plane casually fall out of the sky as she looks on with about as much emotion as Liam Hemsworth. Then it smash-cuts to these scenes of poorly animated tsunamis demolishing cities, and back to Cassie walking through her neighborhood after a flood. The next cut shows the affects of a virus with body bags lined up in a stadium and then a grave where her mom is buried. The emotion bares it all and you do not know what to do because you are being jerked around every other cut.

The best came later when she meets the hot dude archetype named Evan, played by Alex Roe, who is obviously an alien. Thus began the movie’s awkward attempt at a Twilight style romance. They look longingly into each other’s eyes, get into suggestive situations when he shows her how to disarm someone, and have pent-up sexual tension that pays off in most telegraphed way possible. Later she sees him taking a bath and makes a face that says “Oh, I need to have him in me.” It got even better when Evan had to explain why he is a good alien. “I always thought love was an instinct, until I met you… I can human or alien, but I’ll a human to be with you, girl.” I am clearly paraphrasing, but Jesus Christ this material is solid gold. You just have to see it.

The performances were nothing special and nobody really had fun with their roles like Michael Sheen from Twilight. They either took it seriously like Peter Facinelli, tried their hardest like Ashley Greene, or did not give a shit like Robert Pattinson. The only standout for me was Maika Monroe from It Follows, who played this emo survivalist named Ringer. She wore eye shadow in every single scene like it was tattooed to her face while she threatened to murder most of her costars. It is as if her character did not want to be in the movie, but Monroe played it so well I could not tell if she was just being herself.

5th Wave is terrible is every way a movie can be, let alone one of the young adult genre. But on the basis of irony is a great watch if you are interested in the spectacle of failure. It is the new Twilight and the first good bad movie of 2016. If there are sequels just as terrible, I cannot wait. It belongs up there with Space Mutiny and if you want a similar experience, I recommend it for a matinee with friends for good old riff.

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